An informal camp in Serbia. Photo by Abdul Saboor
The campaign focuses not so much on EU and member states’ policies but rather tries to influence public thinking about immigration, which is predominantly negative in the three targeted countries Greece, Italy and Serbia. According to Selma Mesic from Refugee Rights Europe, coordinator of the campaign, they want to “reach those middle audiences who in principle are supportive of upholding rights for people on the move but that might be on the fence or lack information about the violations that are transpiring in their country and within Europe at large.”
With this strategy the organizations “aim to reach a wider audience and shift the narrative in a public space, which is often marred by mistruths and misinformation about people on the move and the dire situations and violence they are facing on a daily basis.” Mesic continues, “We hope to raise awareness about what is taking place at their doorsteps across the continent, and galvanize the public to speak up and act to defend fundamental rights in Europe.”
On June 9, a coalition of over seventy groups launched the “Abolish Frontex” campaign, with actions in eight countries and an open letter stating that it opposes “a world increasingly divided by fortified borders to protect the wealth of the rich from the desperation and righteous anger of the poor and oppressed.”
The Frontex office in Brussels was covered in red paint and posters, banners were dropped outside the House of the EU in Vienna, life jackets were floated in a lake next to the Dutch parliament in The Hague and demonstrations and gatherings were held on the Canary Islands and in Germany, Italy, Morocco and Switzerland. Fabrice Leggeri, Executive Director of Frontex, reacted furiously to the campaign launch, calling it “hate speech.”
Luca, an activist involved in the campaign, said: “If we truly believe all humans are equal than we have to dismantle the systems which keep inequality in place. Frontex, as part of the border-industrial complex, has no place in our vision of a European society striving for justice and committed to repair damages inflicted on the global south in a mindset of white supremacy.” In this context the campaign explicitly states that its aim is not to reform or improve Frontex, but to abolish it altogether and to end the EU border regime.
The campaign has agreed upon an extensive list of demands, not only addressing Frontex but taking aim at the entire body of the EU’s border and migration policies. It is based on nine main demands, ranging from, obviously, the abolishment of Frontex and demilitarization of the borders to an end to migrant detention and deportations. But the campaign also addresses the EU’s contributions to reasons that force people to move in the first place, and the repression against solidarity activists in Europe.
#EndPushbacks and #AbolishFrontex symbolize a new wave of campaigning and activism challenging Europe’s deadly border regime. Frontex is also challenged in court for the first time for its involvement in pushbacks and other human rights violations. Lawyers of the Front-Lex initiative submitted a case to the EU Court of Justice on behalf of two asylum seekers, who “were violently rounded up, assaulted, robbed, abducted, detained, forcibly transferred back to sea, collectively expelled, and ultimately abandoned on rafts with no means of navigation, food or water.”
Though not involved in the case at the Court of Justice, Legal Centre Lesvos joined up with Front-Lex in February to send a formal request to Frontex director Leggeri to suspend or terminate Frontex operations in the Aegean Sea, pointing to Frontex’s involvement in collective expulsions and pushbacks. Marion Bouchetel from the Centre explains that “since March last year, we’ve been contacted many times by survivors of pushbacks and expulsions. It is clear that Frontex is complicit. Its office in Greece is located at the headquarters of the Hellenic Coastguard in Piraeus.”
For Bouchetel legal action and raising awareness – Legal Centre Lesvos is also part of the End Pushbacks campaign – are complementary:
We’ve done a lot of reporting to raise awareness, but also looked at legal action. In Greece there are no efficient possibilities for this, there are no legal pathways to require investigations and reparations to victims. And it is equally hard to hold EU agencies accountable. So, while we are investigating other pre-litigation measures, like the request to Frontex, we also joined the #EndPushbacks campaign to target a wider audience, using basic explanations and facts about pushbacks.
Another investigation, for Corporate Europe Observatory, called out Frontex’s increasingly close relations with military and security companies. Not a big surprise, now that Frontex got its own budget to buy or lease equipment, such as helicopters and patrol vessels. Last autumn the agency granted one of the first large contracts in this context: framework contracts for up to €50 million with arms companies Airbus, with partner Israel Aerospace Industries, and with Elbit for providing drone surveillance services in the Mediterranean.