Frontex denies participation in refugee pushbacks

LIBE lawmakers ask for assurances that in agency’s operations fundamental rights are respected

Photo: EP Fabrice Leggeri.

At their semi-virtual sitting on Tuesday, Civil Liberties committee MEPs demanded replies from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency’s Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri over the alleged involvement of Frontex staff in pushbacks of asylum-seekers by the Greek border guard and claimed for respect to fundamental rights.

Over the past weeks, several media and NGOs have accused the agency of taking part in refugee pushbacks from Greece to Turkey in the Aegean Sea. These revelations led to a Frontex internal inquiry.

At the quizzing on Tuesday, the agency’s chief assured LIBE committee MEPs that there is no evidence of Frontex participation in any of the incidents recently revealed by media in which Greek coast guards allegedly stopped migrants’ vessels and sent them back to Turkish waters.

We have not found evidence that there were active, direct or indirect participation of Frontex staff or officers deployed by Frontex in pushbacks during either Poseidon or rapid border intervention in the Aegean, Leggeri explained on the accusations brought up in the publications.

He referred to the complicated geopolitical context in the Eastern Mediterranean and underlined that Frontex operatives must follow instructions from the authorities of the hosting Member State, Greece in this case.

Leggeri informed MEPs about an incident that was not mentionded in the publications. It happened in the night on 18 to 19 April, in which migrants found themselves surrounded by both Turkish and Greek vessels. There were no maritime assets deployed by Frontex that time. Frontex was able to follow the incident using aerial images livestreamed by a leased by the EU coast guard plane.

The Frontex chief said it was clear that in this case, the migrants were victims of the border conflict between the two countries. He said he sent a letter to Greek minister in charge of maritime affairs to ask explanations about that “suspicious” case. “There was a very strange situation, a suspicion that perhaps something was wrong regarding fundamental rights, but also that perhaps something was wrong regarding the security or a military incident that was ongoing.” The reply was received on 10 July.

Lawmakers complained about the repetition of this type of suspicious incidents and the lack of transparency, and considered that Frontex should act differently when confronted with possible breaches of fundamental rights. Many of them raised the issue of the urgent need to recruit additional staff to deal with fundamental rights complaints.

During the debate, some lawmakers expressed their support to Leggeri, underlining the difficult task entrusted to border guards and the importance of fighting human smugglers, while others called for his resignation.

MEPs said they will prepare further questions to the Frontex chief and will expect written answers.

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