Treatment of third-country nationals at the EU’s external borders: Protecting fundamental rights at the EU sea borders

Objectives - Why this project and for whom?

Mapping the status quo, presenting good practices

Estimates (in German) indicate that one out of four persons attempting to reach Europe by sea perishes during the trip. The pictures of unseaworthy boats overloaded with migrants are not only shocking, but also point to acute fundamental rights challenges, particularly for those in charge of border control and surveillance at sea.

The protection of fundamental rights at the EU sea borders becomes particularly important as new EU policies on external border control are underway. Focusing on the southern maritime EU borders, the FRA launched a project to examine the treatment of intercepted or rescued third-country nationals. The research also looked at the challenges faced by those in charge of border control and surveillance.

The project focused on the treatment of migrants at sea and immediately on arrival at EU territory, while excluding reception policies for irregular migrants. Thematically, it covered not only civil rights but also relevant social rights, such as access to food, water or emergency healthcare.

Practical recommendations to border guards, based on reviewed evidence and documented good practices, were another goal of this project. By this, the FRA aimed to support border guards who, in carrying out their work, often face fundamental rights challenges of a serious and difficult nature.

Details - What did the project involve?

Primary information was collected from different actors involved, for example, from migrants, authorities in charge of border control, rescue coordination centres and informed persons such as fishermen. To complement these social research findings, the project reviewed the relevant national legal framework, including case law. In addition, it explored whether the training curricula of national border academies adequately prepare border guards for the fundamental rights challenges they are likely to encounter at work. A review of local press helped to identify which types of fundamental rights challenges affect particular border areas, including information on the number of migrants reported dead at sea.

Innovation - What's 'new' about the project?

This project used innovative research methodologies. Given possible obstacles in accessing, identifying or gaining the trust of the target group - irregular migrants, rescued third-country nationals as well as border control officers and authorities - for the interviews, the FRA proposed to first test the methodology in a few selected locations and, according to the findings of such a pilot phase, expand it to other research areas.

Outputs - What did the project deliver?

Field research is was carried out in five EU Member States in Southern Europe. Based on the findings from the research a comparative report on the fundamental rights of migrants during and immediately after interception and/or rescue at sea was published.

Related Information

The FRA 2010 Work Programme envisaged a project on the fundamental rights situation of third-country nationals at external EU borders (see Work Programme 2010, section 2.1). Another FRA research project was a survey on how border controls are carried out at selected entry points into the EU, focusing on those with the highest numbers of passenger flows.

This project page was last updated on 23.09.2013.