Maritime border control and the protection of asylum-seekers in the European Union

Unlawful migration is a hot political topic for European countries which try to handle it through the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of Member States of the European Union (Frontex). Frontex, created in 2004 and operative since 2006, is the new tool for implementing the EU policy of borders control that forms part of the process of European integration. This co-operation has an operative dimension, i.e. joint patrolling, which gives rise to doubts concerning its compatibility with member States’ international obligations.

The operational co-operation has been taking place on the high seas along the coasts of the interested EU Member States and, when agreed, also in the territorial waters of the participating third States. On this basis the Member States units can operate outside European territorial waters within the framework of international law. These operations particularly strain the terms of the 1982 United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and to human rights law, in particular the rights of asylum-seekers.

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