The EU will give its controversial border agency Frontex more powers to oversee the deportation of migrants in a move critics said was "totally irresponsible".
Frontex faces allegations of mismanagement, human rights abuses and involvement in pushbacks of asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey, accusations it rejects.
An internal investigation last month identified deficiencies at Frontex and called for a new culture at the agency aimed at detecting possible misconduct.
Nonetheless, a new strategy unveiled by the European Commission on Tuesday puts Frontex at the centre of plans to send more migrants back to their home countries if they are denied entry to Europe.
Under the EC plans, the agency will get new powers to manage the deportation of irregular migrants.
Frontex will also help EU members to persuade migrants with no right to stay to return to their countries of origin.
The strategy calls for a Frontex-designed programme to train "return counsellors" in member states.
EC Vice President Margaritis Schinas rejected what he said was "Frontex-bashing".
He said the agency would oversee deportations “under European humane and values-driven procedure”.
But Ludovic Voet, the Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, said the EU should be looking to bring Frontex under control rather than handing it new powers.
“It is totally irresponsible of the European Commission to give Frontex more powers over deportations at the very moment they are under investigation for involvement in illegal pushbacks of migrants,” he said.
“What Europe needs is action on safe and regular routes for labour migration, which prevent exploitation of migrant workers, and regularisation mechanisms for the millions of undocumented migrants that live and work in Europe.”
Tineke Strik, a Dutch MEP in the European Parliament's Green grouping, said Frontex should "follow up on Parliament's investigations into mismanagement and pushbacks" before new funds were approved.
A report in March by a Frontex management board cleared the agency of wrongdoing in eight of 13 reported cases, but the remaining five are unresolved.
Human Rights Watch said the inquiry failed to look at "scores of other incidents" of alleged pushbacks.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson acknowledged shortcomings at Frontex but said "the agency was not involved in this type of activity".
Frontex will "grow with these new tasks", Ms Johansson said, with the aim of "protecting our borders, and our fundamental rights to manage migration, and to make Europe a secure area".
EU aims to ramp up migrant deportations
Key to the Commission's strategy is persuading migrants to return voluntarily, and helping their home countries to take them back, to reduce the cost of deportations.
The European Parliament’s research service estimated that it costs €3,414 ($4,120) to deport someone forcibly, compared with about €560 if they go voluntarily.
Some migrants already receive free flights, small payments and other incentives to leave.
But the EU’s executive branch said it could impose visa restrictions on countries not willing to take people back.
Mr Schinas said there had been an EU failure to implement migrant returns or deportations.
He said that in 2019 about 500,000 people received orders to leave Europe, but only 142,000 did so.
"We're managing roughly one third of those who should leave," he said.
The EU has struggled to overhaul its migration and asylum policy since well more than a million people arrived in Europe in 2015, most of them from Syria.
Their entry overwhelmed facilities in the Greek islands and Italy and sparked one of Europe's biggest political crises.