Fundamental rights at the EU’s borders: FRA reports reveal challenges ahead

Two new reports by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) present the human rights situation at the EU’s air and land borders where asylum seekers as well as victims of trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation and for organ extraction may also first enter the EU.

The reports are based on research at five airports and six major land border crossing points, and demonstrate the potential for fundamental rights infringements at the EU’s borders. Together with FRA’s earlier report on fundamental rights at the EU’s southern sea borders, these studies describe the treatment of people entering the EU and make suggestions to improve respect for their human rights.

The EU’s borders are its first point of contact with the external world. This is where the EU’s fundamental rights’ obligation begins,” said FRA Director Morten Kjaerum. “Any action taken by the EU to help manage its external borders must comply with fundamental rights. Making fundamental rights part of the Schengen border control evaluations is already a step in the right direction. Security concerns at the borders must not overrule fundamental rights, which must be at the core of modern and integrated border management.

The two new reports reveal a number of issues that affect the fundamental rights of non-EU citizens arriving in the EU. In the light of these findings, FRA makes a number of proposals to improve fundamental rights safeguards at the EU’s borders, aimed at EU and national policy makers, the EU borders Agency Frontex, and operative officers working at border check posts. For example:

  • Although border guards receive instructions on professional and respectful treatment, some passengers found border guards to be unhelpful, unresponsive and hostile verbally. EU Member States should therefore take effective action to address serious forms of disrespectful conduct towards travellers;
  • Less than half of border officers interviewed at the airport and land borders say they inform people undergoing detailed checks of the purpose and procedure of the examination. Over two thirds also said they would not tell people who are refused entry into the EU where to get legal assistance. Border guards must provide all travellers with timely and adequate information when they are subjected to detailed checks or if they are refused entry. Member States should also be more active in promoting language learning by border guards and put in place effective interpretation mechanisms at border crossing points*;
  • A third of border guards interviewed at the land border crossing points said they would not start an asylum procedure even if the traveller said their lives or freedom would be at risk if they were returned to the country they had left. At four of the airports investigated, an average of only 22% of border guards had received written guidance on identifying potential victims of trafficking. Border guards therefore need to be better trained and sensitised to recognise asylum seekers or migrants who have been trafficked. Border management authorities should also ensure there are procedures in place and training available for border guards who deal with children*;
  • Facilities for migrants who have been refused entry or who have arrived without papers are often insufficiently equipped, even though people can be held there for several hours; at some airports they were held for several days. Member States must ensure that the facilities in which people whose entry to the EU has been denied are held meet basic needs, including the provision of food and water.

FRA’s annual Fundamental Rights Conference, which begins today, is devoted this year to the topic of fundamental rights and migration to the EU. As well as border management, the conference will debate issues such as the protection of children, migrant integration and the growing racism in some places against migrants. Participants will also discuss the challenges posed by the recent pressures at the EU’s external borders for receiving countries, and ways of responding to the situation. Visit the conference site for the programme and list of participants.

The full reports can be downloaded here:

For further information, please contact the FRA media team

E-mail: / Tel.: +43 1 580 30 642

Notes to editors:

  • Fieldwork for the airport borders report was carried out at Charles de Gaulle (France); Fiumicino (Italy), Frankfurt (Germany), Manchester (UK) and Schiphol (The Netherlands)
  • Fieldwork for the land borders report was conducted at El Tarajal and Ceuta (Spain/Morocco); Kapitan Andreevo (Bulgaria/Turkey); Kipi (Greece/Turkey); Medyka (Poland/Ukraine); Röszke (Hungary/Serbia); and Vyšné Nemecké (Slovakia/Ukraine)
  • For more on FRA’s work in the area of asylum, migration and borders, included related publications, see the FRA website.
  • The points marked with an * were updated after the original publication of this press release.