The European Council announced on Friday (18 November) that it has green-lit negotiations on increasing the presence of Frontex, the EU border agency, in Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.
The international agreement under negotiation would allow Frontex to “exercise executive powers” such as border checks and registrations.
Broadening Frontex’s mandate in the region would be to “assist those countries to manage migration flows, counter illegal immigration and to tackle cross border crime”, according to the Council.
The border agency previously held a similar agreement with Albania, Montenegro and Serbia, however, the deals gave Frontex a limited mandate. The agency could only carry out “joint operations” and “deploy teams in the region of those countries bordering the EU”.
The upcoming negotiations will seek to increase Frontex’s executive powers in the region.
Czech Interior Minister Vít Rakušan said that this negotiation aims to “detect and block irregular migration movements early on”. The Balkan route is the second most popular path asylum-seekers and other immigrants use to arrive in the EU, with most coming from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
According to Frontex, illegal crossings in the Balkans route doubled in 2021, in comparison with the previous year.
However, UN agencies in the field have denounced the harsh treatment directed at new arrivals by the border police of the Balkan countries.
In February 2022, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi criticised the high rates of abuse targeted towards people trying to cross borders, particularly on the Western Balkans route, as a practice that is normalising the illegal pushbacks.
Médicines Sans Frontières, one NGO working in the field, denounced the illegal pushback at the border between Serbia and Hungary in the summer of 2022. People were “denied access to basic services, beaten and humiliated in their attempts to cross the border”, the NGO wrote.
In February 2021, four Italian MEPs conducted a monitoring trip to the border with Croatia and Bosnia, however, Croatian police blocked them from crossing the border.
The EU Commission will begin negotiations with the four countries. Once a bilateral agreement is reached, the adoption will be decided on by the Council.