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EU Border Guards to Target Illegal Migration in Montenegro

Montenegrin Interior Minister Filip Adzic said on Tuesday that the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, and Montenegrin police will jointly be deployed at the country’s borders from July 1 in order to prevent irregular migration.

Adzic signed an agreement with EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson and justice minister Gunnar Strommer to allow the deployment of the Frontex officers in Montenegro.

According to the agreement, Montenegrin police and Frontex can also organise joint operations.

Adzic said that the agreement will replace the current one from 2020, which provided for joint protection of the border between Montenegro and Croatia, the country’s only EU neighbour state.

“Frontex officers will be on all Montenegrin borders with neighbouring countries, not only Croatia. It will contribute to addressing irregular migration and further enhance security at the EU’s external borders,” Adzic said.

According to Montenegrin official data, more than 8,500 migrants were registered crossing into the country last year, 150 per cent more than in 2021.

On May 14, the European Council confirmed the decision to sign the agreement with Montenegro but stressed that the Balkan state remains ultimately responsible for the protection of its own borders.

The agreement has to be confirmed in the European Parliament and the Montenegrin parliament.

According to the agreement, Frontex is able to lend both technical and operational support, while its teams will be able to support Montenegrin border guards in carrying out border checks at crossing points and preventing unauthorised entries.

The agreement also allows Frontex staff to exercise executive powers, such as doing border checks and registering people.

Since 2019, when Frontex launched its first operation in a non-EU country, around 500 officers have been deployed in the Balkan region.

There are joint operations at the EU’s external borders with Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, as well as via the previous agreement with Montenegro, which came into force in July 2020.

However, Frontex’s involvement in the Balkans has encountered criticism.

In November 2022, the EU border agency’s plans to conduct mass surveillance at Europe’s borders were frozen after a cross-border investigation published by BIRN and a critical review of the programme by EDPS, the EU’s data protection watchdog.

The EU border agency was forced to admit irregularities and commit to rewriting the programme in compliance with EU data protection laws.

Frontex’s agency director Fabrice Leggeri resigned over a human rights scandal sparked by a joint investigation published in April 2022 by Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, SRF Rundschau, Republik and Le Monde.

The investigation revealed the involvement of Frontex in illegal pushbacks of asylum-seekers from Greece to Turkey between March 2020 and September 2021. The involvement was later confirmed by EU’s anti-corruption watchdog OLAF.

New data published by Frontex on Monday showed that 22,500 irregular border crossings were detected along the so-called Balkan Route in the first four months of 2023.

Frontex said that the Balkan Route was the second most active route for migrants heading towards the EU

In January, Frontex released data showing that some 145,600 irregular border crossings were reported in the Western Balkans in 2022.

Source: Balkan Insight