European Parliament Plenary votes to approve draft regulation on Frontex-coordinated sea operations

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The European Parliament on 16 April 2014 approved by 528 votes to 46, with 88 abstentions, the draft Regulation for Frontex-coordinated surveillance of external sea borders. Operations not co-ordinated by Frontex are not covered. The proposed Regulation establishes rules on interception, search and rescue in territorial waters and on the high seas, disembarkation, and the protection of fundamental rights of migrants in distress at sea. According to the Parliament’s press release, the Regulation, while still requiring formal approval by the EU Council of Ministers, is ‘already informally agreed by Parliament and Council negotiators’ and ‘should enter into force before this summer’. ‘It will enter into force on the 20th day following its publication in the EU Official Journal and it will be directly applicable in the member states’.

The rules impose a clear duty on units participating in Frontex operations to ensure the safety (Article 3) and human dignity (Article 4.4b) of intercepted or rescued persons. The proposed Regulation also provides that any operational plans for Frontex-coordinated operations must contain procedures to ensure that persons with international protection needs, victims of trafficking, unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable persons are identified and provided with appropriate assistance (Recital 9, paragraph 2).
Under Article 9, ‘Member States shall observe their obligation to render assistance to any vessel or person in distress at sea’. Recital 7 states that ‘the shipmaster and crew should not face criminal sanctions for the sole reason of having rescued persons in distress at sea and brought them to a place of safety’.

In addition, the proposed Regulation prohibits the disembarkation of intercepted or rescued persons in a country where they would risk serious harm (Article 4.1). Before disembarkation, units must use all means to identify the intercepted or rescued persons, assess their personal circumstances, inform them of their destination in a way that those persons understand, and give them an opportunity to express any reasons for believing that disembarkation in the proposed place would be in violation of the principle of non-refoulement (Article 4.3).

The compromise allows for Member States to conduct vessels or persons on board intercepted on the high seas - waters beyond the territory of any state - to a third country (Article 7.1a.(c)). Member States can also 'alter the course of' and 'escort' a vessel intercepted in the territorial sea of a Member State to a destination outside the territorial sea of that Member State (Article 6.1a.(b)). Subject to the principle of non-refoulement, disembarkation may take place in the third country from which the vessel is assumed to have departed (Article 10.1(b)). The operational plan to be adopted before the launch of each Frontex operation must include details on the availability of shore-based medical staff, interpreters, legal advisers and other relevant experts, but only when necessary (Article 4.3, paragraph 2).

Read the adopted text of the Regulation (p.175 to p.222) and the Parliament’s press release.

18 April 2014

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