Frontex eyes drones to further war on immigration

Last September the European Parliament granted EU border control agency Frontex the right to purchase its own equipment, such as navy ships and helicopters. Up till then Frontex was depending on EU member states defence and police forces for its equipment. The decision of the European Parliament opened up new profit opportunities for the arms industry.

While no orders so far have become public, several military companies started courting Frontex, especially with offers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones).
Lockheed Martin demonstrated the use of an optionally piloted vehicle for border surveillance tasks in November last year. For this demonstration the company was paid 30,000 euros by Frontex. An interesting concept: marketing paid by those teased to buy. “Lockheed Martin presented an affordable, integrated solution tailored to address specific European border management requirements,” said Jim Quinn of Lockheed Martin.
Two months later French Thales and Spanish Aerovision presented their Fulmar UAV to Frontex during a trial at the Aktio Airbase in Greece. According to the press release more companies were presenting their drones at this event, names are not mentioned. The Fulmar is already in use by for border surveillance tasks by Malaysia in the Strait of Malacca.
Just last month Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) showed its Heron UAV to Frontex, again in Greece. Militaries all over the world are operating the Heron. The Israeli Defence Forces relied heavily on the use of UAVs, including the Heron, during the Gaza conflict of December 2008 and January 2009, when the use of drones resulted into at least 87 civilian deaths. Author and activist David Cronin criticised Frontex for recruiting “Israel’s war machine […] to stop impoverished foreigners from reaching the European Union.”
For a workshop in Bulgaria in April on “Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) and Optionally Piloted Aircraft (OPA) potential for European border surveillance and SAR operations”, Frontex once again invites “industry to present its latest achievements in this domain.
The agency and military companies are meeting up elsewhere as well. Several companies will be present at the European Day for Border Guards in Warshaw in May. Cassidian, the military wing of EADS, is one of the exhibitors.
Apart from a nauseating “expression of appreciation and celebration of Europe’s border-management authorities and their personnel”, the event will discuss “the latest technologies and their use and influence in border management.”
Altogether, it seems just a matter of time before Frontex will start purchasing its own UAVs.
In August the industry is invited to participate in a “Workshop on innovation in Border Control”, during the European Intelligence and Security Informatics Conference in Denmark. The workshop is organised jointly by Frontex, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the National Center for Border Security and Immigration of the University of Arizona in the United States. 
An alarming combination of organisers, since militarisation at the US-Mexican border is even further developend than that at the EU border. Early this month the State of Texas unveiled the second of six new gunboats, dubbed the ‘Texas Navy’, which will patrol the waterways of the border with Mexico. A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety proudly spoke of its “night vision capabilities, […] ballistic shielding and […] fully automatic machine guns”.
While all signs point to an intensification of the EU war on immigration, there are some small, hopeful developments. The European Ombudsman has started an inquiry into Frontex’s implementation of its obligations concerning fundamental rights. The inquiry was triggered by the ongoing criticism of NGOs of human rights abuses by Frontex.
Frontex’ policy of returning migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea to the shores of North Africa, denying them the right to ask for asylum, has also come under more pressure now that the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy for such actions last month
Of course, those criticisms will most likely not change the course of Frontex, but they at least give opponents of Europe’s deadly immigration policies some more arguments for their struggle.
[MA, 26 March 2012]