A Syrian family has brought legal action against Frontex, the European Union (EU) organisation charged with management and control of the Union’s external borders, for beach of their fundamental human rights. This is the first time that such a claim is brought to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The family, which includes four children aged between one and seven years old, arrived in Greece from Syria in October 2016. Upon arrival, they were denied the right to have their asylum claim processed and promptly put on a flight to Turkey, their last non-EU country of passage. The flight was managed by Frontex, and was supervised by Frontex employees. On the flight, which was supervised by Frontex employees, the young children were separated from their parents and forced to sit next to escort guards. Five years later, the family lives in Northern Iraq, as building a life in Turkey was not sustainable.
Informal cross-border expulsions such as this are known as “pushbacks.” Pushbacks are illegal under international and EU law. They are in breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and of Art.14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” In addition, pushbacks breach the absolute prohibition on non-refoulement, a basic tenet of international law which prohibits sending people back to a country where there is a risk of prosecution or inhumane and degrading treatment.
The right to asylum is enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, yet since the 2015 influx of Syrian refugees, there have been countless reports of EU member failing to comply, and EU organisations unofficially condoning the practice. Most recently, Croatia, Greece and Romania were called out for such practices, as it was revealed that over 2,000 migrants lost their lives after systemic pushbacks.
The family has now brought action for damages against Frontex for the breach of their human rights and the breach of the children’s rights which, they claim, occurred when they were separated from their parents on the flight from Greece to Turkey. The lawsuit is part of a wider campaign, “Not on Our Border Watch,” which fights to hold the European Union accountable for its controversial migration policies. Not On Our Border Watch aims to demand a change in the current asylum and border system, of which Frontex is one of the core pillars.
The lawsuit, brought by Dutch firm Prakken d’Oliveira, therefore explicitly targets Frontex, stating that “it is no longer acceptable that Frontex, equipped with an ever wider mandate and a bigger budget, deems itself above the law. It is time that Frontex respects fundamental rights and the rule of law.”