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10th Apr 2021

Frontex refuses to investigate pushbacks, despite EU demand

  • Romanian Border Guard Neustadt class vessel MAI 1103 under Frontex filmed blocking migrants from reaching Greece (Photo: Turkish Coast Gaurd)

The EU's border agency Frontex is defying European Commission demands to investigate reports they are preventing asylum seekers from landing on the Greek islands.

"Frontex strongly rejects any suggestions of any involvement in pushbacks," a spokesperson from the Warsaw-based agency told this website on Monday (26 October), when asked if they intend to investigate the allegations.

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Instead, he said the agency is "upholding the highest standards" of border control with its operations.

That statement follows the Commission's request the agency looks into the issue, after video footage emerged of a Frontex vessel blocking a boat full of people off the Greek coast.

"We will remain in close contact both with the Greek authorities and with Frontex in relation to the required follow-up," an EU commission spokesperson told reporters earlier on Monday.

An expose by investigative portal Bellingcat plus other media outlets, said Frontex has been both directly and indirectly involved in pushing back seaborne potential asylum seekers on their way to Greece back to Turkey.

They documented at least six pushbacks involving Frontex.

Such moves are illegal, since people have a right to enter a member state and ask for asylum.

Whether their claims are legitimate or not must then be ascertained by national authorities - in this case, Greek.

Similar reports and documents also implicate the Greek coast guard in the Aegean sea, as well as Croatian police on its shared land borders with Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

But the allegations against Frontex mark a new development for an EU agency whose annual budget has rocketed from around €6m in 2005 to almost half a billion euros today.

The commission said they are taking the matter levied against Frontex seriously.

Aside from issuing statements of concern, the Brussels executive also said it had no way of making sure Frontex is doing its job properly.

"The commission is not the hierarchical superior of the agency, the agency is run on its own legal basis," the commission spokesperson noted.

Frontex's flat out refusal to investigate the allegations against itself, despite commission demands, appears to make that clear.

The agency has a fundamental rights monitor and is hiring some 40 human rights investigators. It also has a complaints procedure.

But these instruments do not appear to be working as intended, posing accountability questions when things go wrong.

Frontex oversight is also exercised by a management board, composed of EU states and the commission.

Earlier this year, the same board allowed Frontex to derogate from staff rules that define who needs to be probed for violations and abuse.

Investigation

'Inhumane' Frontex forced returns going unreported

The independence of Frontex's monitoring system to make sure people are treated humanely when they are forcibly returned is in question. Efforts by some national authorities are underway to create a more credible parallel system based on transparency and scrutiny.

EU Commission to probe Croat border attacks on migrants

Refugee and asylum seeker hopefuls are showing up with horrific injuries, including broken bones and collapsed lungs, after entering Croatia. NGOs blame a militarised Croatian police force for the abuse. The Commission now wants to monitor the border.

EU mulls new system to check illegal pushbacks of migrants

The European Commission says it may create a new system to monitor push backs by EU states. The announcement follows weeks of dithering by the commission, which has refrained from condemning abuse by Greek and Croat authorities, despite mounting evidence.

Amnesty demands criminal probe into Malta's push-backs

Amnesty International is demanding a criminal investigation into the treatment of migrants and refugees by Malta. The demand comes on the back of a report by the NGO that details the island state's efforts to stem migrant arrivals.

Confusion over Frontex's Greek pushback investigation

In a quick U-turn, EU border agency Frontex says it has now launched an inquiry into allegations it may have blocked potential asylum seekers from reaching the Greek coast, in so-called 'pushbacks'. What form that inquiry will take is unclear.

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Analysis

Frontex scrutiny on rights violations is a PR stunt

Greece denies any illegal pushbacks at sea. The EU takes their version of events as face value, in a system unable and unwilling to shed doubt on Greek authorities - posing accountability questions on the EU's border guard agency Frontex.

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