On the 6th of September 2023, the General Court of the European Union (GCEU) ruled in its judgment T‑600/21. The case concerned Syrian nationals arriving in Greece where they expressed their desire to lodge an application for international protection. However, following a joint return operation carried out by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) and Greece, they were transferred to Türkiye. From there, they went to Iraq, where they have resided ever since. As their complaints to Frontex’s Fundamental Rights Officer were deemed inadmissible, the applicants brought a claim for compensation before the GCEU on account of Frontex’s alleged improper conduct.
The General Court held that Frontex’s task is to provide technical and operational support to the Member States (MS). However, it is the MS alone that are competent to assess the merits of return decisions and to examine applications for international protection. Hence, the Court stated that in absence of Frontex’s alleged failures to fulfil its fundamental rights obligations,. the direct causal link alleged by the applicants between the damage allegedly suffered and the conduct of which Frontex is accused cannot be established.
Furthermore, the General Court held that the damage must result directly from the alleged illegality and not from the applicant’s choice as to how to react to the unlawful act. The Court consequently ruled that the damage relating to the costs of accommodation in Türkiye, the smugglers’ fees to travel to Iraq and their living costs, the feelings of fear and suffering connected to difficult journey to Iraq, and the cost of representation cannot be regarded as resulting directly from Frontex’s conduct because the applicants did not comply with the Turkish temporary travel permit only allowing them to travel on certain dates to the ‘Provincial Directorate of Immigration of Sanliurfa, that their flight to Iraq is a consequence of their fear of being returned to Syria by Türkiye and that a lawyer in the pre-litigation procedure is not mandatory. The General Court therefore concluded that the applicants did not adduce evidence proving a sufficiently direct causal link between the damage and the conduct of which Frontex is accused, hence the action for damage was dismissed.