On Wednesday 6 September 2023, the General Court of the European Union will render its judgment in the lawsuit against Frontex brought by a Syrian family. This is a unique case: it is the first time that the European border- and coastal agency is held accountable for its involvement in the illegal deportation of people and the violation of fundamental rights. This action for damages will be land mark case, given the current events on the Mediterranean. The lawsuit is being handled by the lawyers of Prakken d'Oliveira and is supported by the Dutch Council for Refugees. BKB, Sea-Watch Legal Aid Fund and Jungle Minds also support the case.
Pushback of a Syrian family
The EU agency was taken to court by the Syrian family at the end of 2021. The family, that now lives in northern Iraq, holds Frontex responsible for human rights violations and the illegal pushback they were subjected to, and is demanding compensation. The family arrived in Greece in October 2016, where their application for asylum was registered. However, 11 days later the family was put on a plane to Turkey by Frontex and the Greek authorities, without having being able to apply for asylum and without an expulsion decision. During the flight, the parents of the four young children were separated in the presence of Frontex staff. They were also not allowed to talk to anyone during the flight. Once in Turkey, the family was immediately imprisoned. After their release, they had no access to basic services, such as a roof over their heads, water and sanitation. They were unable to keep their heads above water, whereupon they fled to northern Iraq.
No one is above the law, not even Frontex
Lisa-Marie Komp, Marieke van Eik and Flip Schüller from Prakken d'Oliveira Human Rights Lawyers represent the Syrian family. Lisa-Maire Komp: “We hold Frontex accountable because, as the implementing body, they are obliged to monitor compliance with human rights during missions with which they support member states. In this case, they failed to do so, violating the fundamental rights of the Syrian family. You can't just deport people to another country. Before someone can be deported, it must be assessed whether he or she needs asylum protection and that has not happened here. Frontex, and the EU, must take their responsibility. With this case, we want to make it clear that no one, including Frontex, is above the law.”
Fundamental rights violated
By way of this deportation, the family fell victim to a so-called pushback, which entails deporting people to another country without prior procedure. As a result, they were denied the right to apply for asylum. In doing so, Frontex also violated the prohibition on non-refoulement, which prohibits the return of asylum seekers or refugees to a country where they fear persecution or risk inhumane treatment. Both are fundamental rights of the European Union and are therefore binding, as laid down in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. By separating children from their parents during the flight, Frontex also violated the rights of the child.
Undermining of values on which the EU is built
The Dutch Council for Refugees (in Dutch: Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland) contributed to the argumentation from the start and hopes for a historic judgement that will force Frontex to comply with human rights. Frank Candel, CEO: “This case is about more than just this Syrian family. This action for damages is the first of its kind and thus will be a landmark case given the current events on the Mediterranean. Many people have fallen victim to illegal deportations in recent years. With this case, we want to put an end to human rights violations and oppression at our external borders. The violation of fundamental rights of the European Union by an EU agency is a serious undermining of the values upon which the Union is founded.”