Refusing Control

Abolish Frontex: a decentralised campaign fighting the EU Border Regime

This article is part of the project Refusing Control in which we look at how people are organising and share lessons and strategies.

Many were faced with the same burning question: what can we do?


Leif Hinrichsen (CC BY-NC 2.0)Image: Leif Hinrichsen, Creative Commons


To address the continuing militarisation of migration control and ever increasing violence of the European border regime, an international network of organisers joined forces in an impressive decentralised campaign. With the European border agency Frontex as appropriate target and its aim explicitly abolitionist, Abolish Frontex sets out to coordinate and amplify existing efforts and campaigns, as well as serving as a point of entry for those who want to join the fight against border violence in their local contexts.

“The aim of Abolish Frontex is not to reform or improve Frontex, or to replace it with more of the same. Instead, we are targeting the policies and system that keeps Frontex in place. We work towards the dismantling of the border-industrial complex, and the building of a society where people are free to move and live.”

-Abolish Frontex site

Within months, over a hundred organisations joined the campaign and numerous actions were organised under its banner. In the light of our project Refusing Control, in which we surface stories of organising, we asked Abolish Frontex to tell us more about this impressive campaign. In an inspiring session they shared with us what set off the campaign in the fall of 2020, why the campaign is rooted in an abolitionist perspective and what truly decentralised organising means. Their story included great tools to support organisers in finding meaningful ways to resist in their local context. 

A network of organisers

The idea among organisers that more internationally coordinated responses to the horror of the EU border regime was needed, emerged at a time of an exceptional amount of border related catastrophes around the fall of 2020. There was the horrendous fire which destroyed Greece’s largest refugee camp Moria and several tragedies of mass drownings in the Mediterranean. It was a period of a widely shared feeling of outrage, but also of a lot of powerlessness. Many were faced with the same burning question: what can we do? 

At that moment, a broad network of people working on migration and border militarization felt that while many organising against these atrocities in their own way and place, there was an interlinking framing and coordination lacking. Something which would enable all these groups to unite in an internationally coordinated response, a way to put out shared key messages and core demands– so all these activists and organisers could target local, national and international institutions in a more cohesive and powerful manner. At the same time, there was a need to offer something to people who were not part of a group yet but really wanted to do something, a point of entry through which they could join the fight and organise their own actions. 

Thus different groups and individuals started to discuss the possibility of coordinating together. They set out to create a campaign which could not only amplify the many activist efforts by linking different struggles and groups, but could also serve as a point of connection for anybody who wanted to organise in their own local setting. 


Frontex and all that is wrong with the border regime

The European border agency Frontex was the obvious campaign target. Though relatively unknown, Frontex serves as the key actor in enforcing the war on people on the move, its operations riddled with human rights violations. Frontex is involved in deportations, violent push-backs, and many more issues which organisers have been working on since decades. Moreover, Frontex is the EU’s pet project when it comes to border control and can rely upon an ever-growing budget and capacity. It will soon have an army of 10,000 border guards able to own and use firearms. In a grim way, this flagship agency epitomises everything that is wrong with Europe’s border regime. Frontex is a highly suitable strategic target to unite around - and as its operations increase and remain largely unchecked, it was an urgent matter to shed light on this agency, to make it known so people could resist it. 
 Rasande Tyskar (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Image: Rasande Tyskar, Creative Commons


The steps towards abolition

With the target clear, the next step was to create a political foundation of principles and demands that different groups could agree upon. 

It was clear from the get go that even though the campaign would explicitly target Frontex, it would not be not a single-issue campaign nor would the aim be some kind of reform of this institution. For the organisers, the agency should not be understood as an incident or aberration, but as a representation of the systemic violence against people on the move and racialized communities in the context of a deeply colonial capitalist Europe. The aim should not be reform but the dismantling of the border regime and the system that produces it. 
To set campaign goals for this overarching aim, one of the big inspirations was the 8 to Abolition campaign arising from the Black Lives Matter protests in the US. This campaign linked a clear analysis of the need for police abolition to an eight-point program showing the steps to get there. Inspired by this, the Abolish Frontex campaign formulated for nine demands and provides extensive background why these steps are necessary for dismantling the European border regime.  

DemandsAbolishFrontexThe nine demands of Abolish Frontex

Organising tools and lessons from Abolish Frontex

Shaping the political groundwork and concrete demands of the Abolish Frontex campaign was done in a participatory way, including all those who had expressed an interest to join. Of course, this took time and work: from a two-day strategising meeting to separate working groups and an extensive online survey to see if the different demands had enough support and gauge where there was clear consensus or whether concerns needed to be addressed.  

Abolish Frontex points to one of the useful strategising tools which supported their process and helped them identifying points of intervention and they actively promote for others to use. It can support people who want to do something in their local context and be a good method for organisers to come up with their own actions. The below table shows how to brainstorm about different targets and ideas for actions.

Points of Intervention

To clarify how to use this table, the example of the arms trade was used. Starting with the Point of Production, which would be arms factories, arms developers companies, research and development sites. In short, all the places where the production is happening or planned. The Point of Destruction is the site of destruction itself, which in the case of the arms trade could mean warzones or zones of conflict. In case of Frontex it would be detention centres, the camps and the places where push-backs happen – often at the borders themselves. Points of Consumption are the sites where weapons deals are made, such as arms fairs. The Point of Decision would be a national or international government department – for example a department responsible for arms exports and the decisions around these. The Points of Assumption are the arguments that are used to justify the system in place – in the case of arms export these arguments are jobs, national defence, security, the fight against terrorism and so on. At all these points, interventions can be thought of: from picket lines at arms fairs or factories, to influencing the narrative by exposing its contradictions.

Examples of Frontex Points of Intervention which surfaced in a workshop include: 
- the border countries where Frontex’ operations are ongoing (Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Croatia…); international deportation flights and airports 
- EU institutions and national governments and departments responsible for migration 
- Discourse of migration as a security threat and militarisation as a solution 
- Companies selling border militarisation and surveillance equipment

A celebration of decentralised actions 

The session ended with an incredible slideshow the plethora of actions carried out against the border regime (beyond the Abolish Frontex campaign). From blockades and picket lines targeting the arms factories which are involved in border militarization in the Netherlands, to banner drops in Poland, the much reported blocking of a deportation van in Scotland and horse manure dumped outsight Frontex office in the Canaries.

After having learned about all the impressive organizing the Abolish Frontex campaign pulled of, seeing so many different actions in so many different places organised against the destructive border regime, was a truly enticing end of a highly inspiring meeting. 


Find out more about Abolish Frontex and - including the 15 page "foundation" of the campaign.


Join / support Abolish Frontex 

Find out more about Frontex and what Abolish Frontex is calling for here [pdf] and in other languages here

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Sanne Stevens

Department of Media and Communications