First Frontex-led return operation

On 25 January, 40 Albanian citizens were returned to Tirana on a joint charter flight organised by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. The flight started from Madrid and had a stopover in Rome.

This was the first return operation fully initiated and organised by Frontex, from the pre-return procedures, chartering of the aircraft to contacts with Albanian authorities. Prior to the operation, each of the returnees received an individual return decision from the authorities of the relevant EU countries. The agency was responsible to set the timeframe, the operational procedures and, through the EU Delegation in Albania and the Frontex Liaison Officer, to contact the Albanian authorities. On the same time, the excellent cooperation with Spanish and Italian authorities ensured the success of the flight.

This operation is the first of its kind where the agency offered complete service capabilities to Member States, who wish to use this fully fledged return activity.

“This operation opens a new chapter in the way we can support Member States with returns,” says Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri. “The excellent cooperation with the Republic of Albania but also with Spain and Italy has significantly contributed to the success of this operation,” he added.

While the issuance of return decisions is the sole responsibility of Member States, Frontex provides a full service to them, ranging from technical and operational assistance in the organisation and coordination of return operations, supports in determining the identity of returnees, cooperates with Member States and non-EU countries as well as other stakeholders involved in return management.

Frontex can also organise a return operation by chartering an airplane, engaging return officers from the European Border and Coast Guard standing corps and taking over the contacts with the countries of return, as it was the case with this operation. The decision about who should be returned is always taken by the judicial or administrative authorities of the Member States.

Frontex-led operations are an additional tool to support the Member States and ensure effective returns in full respect of the fundamental rights. Next to return experts present on board of the flights, Frontex deploys forced-return monitors in cooperation with the Fundamental Rights Officer. The monitors observe and report on fundamental rights compliance in operations organized, coordinated or supported by the agency.

Last year, despite the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Frontex assisted EU Member States in returning more than 18 300 people not entitled to remain in the EU, 53% more than in 2020 and 16% more than pre-COVID-19 levels of 2019.