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29th Mar 2020

EU agency kept in dark on forced flight abuse

  • People are being forced back to Afghanistan on flights coordinated by Frontex (Photo: UR-SDV)

Witnesses of abuse during a forced-return flight to Afghanistan last year preferred telling national authorities rather than informing the EU's border agency, Frontex.

The returns, on a flight from Munich to the war-torn country on 14 August 2018, had been coordinated by the EU agency, but were marked by reports of severe violations inflicted by German escort officers on a terrified Afghan man.

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What happened was detailed by anti-torture observers (CPT) from the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog based in Strasbourg, France.

Six German officers first restrained the man then squeezed his testicles to inflict intense pain, the CPT report said.

But the CPT did not tell Frontex and instead filed its documents directly with German authorities in early December last year.

"Visit reports are always sent to the state party concerned on a confidential basis", a Council of Europe spokesperson told EUobserver on Tuesday (8 October) when asked why the EU agency was kept in the dark.

For their part, German authorities followed up with a 36-page response which did not dispute the CPT findings.

The German federal police had "picked up" on the CPT recommendations not to squeeze people's testicles or to prevent them from breathing properly, the response noted.

The CPT then made the case public in May 2019 at the request of the German authorities, the Council of Europe said.

"The implementation of these recommendations will be the subject of an ongoing and confidential dialogue between the CPT and the German authorities," the Council of Europe spokesperson also said on Tuesday.

The human rights watchdog spoke after Frontex had earlier criticised its actions.

It made no sense to wait nine months before the EU found out about the problem, officials from the Warsaw-based agency had told this website.

"If the CPT members had indeed witnessed such practice, they should have immediately reported it to the escort leader or to the Frontex representative during the operation, as it would have led to immediate intervention," Frontex had said.

It may have even stopped the return operation to Afghanistan if it had known, the EU agency said.

The discussion comes amid increasing pressure on Frontex by critics who say it fails to fully acknowledge human rights abuses on forced return flights.

Such violations are supposed to be labelled as "serious incident reports" or SIRs.

But what happened on the 14 August 2018 flight to Afghanistan slipped through the net and was never recorded in Frontex's internal checks and balances report.

The EU agency has documented just four SIRs since 2018, despite having coordinated hundreds of flights during that period, posing questions on the credibility of the system that is meant to protect people from state violence.

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