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25th Jun 2021

Frontex embroiled in new transparency case

  • Germany's Der Spiegel magazine reported the Romanian Frontex vessel had pushed back migrants (Photo: Turkish Coast Gaurd)

The EU's border agency Frontex is set to get embroiled into yet another transparency dispute with the EU's administrative watchdog.

The European Ombudsman last week (10 February) agreed to launch an investigation into the matter.

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The issue follows months of efforts by journalists plus an MEP to gain key information on the location of 16 Frontex vessels operating off the Greek islands.

Those demands came amid an October investigation by German magazine Der Spiegel, which accused the Warsaw-based agency of forcing people on small rubber boats back into Turkish territorial waters.

The Der Spiegel report revealed that a Romanian Frontex boat had refused to rescue some of those seeking help.

It also noted that most Frontex vessels in the area had switched off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders to avoid disclosing their locations.

The office of Spanish left MEP Sira Rego said journalists in the month leading up to the Der Spiegel investigation had asked Frontex to release location details of vessels to see if they were linked to the pushbacks.

But Frontex never responded to their query, said her office.

Rego then launched the same request on their behalf in early October - in the hope an MEP request would carry more weight than that of a journalist. She also asked for the Long Range Identification Tracking data.

Frontex replied a month later but refused to divulge the information, citing privacy issues. It also claimed such information could be used by criminal traffickers.

"The prospect that such vessels may be located by traffickers constitutes a significant risk to achieving the operational mandate," replied Frontex.

Rego appealed noting she did not need any personal information revealed, just the location of the vessels from March to September last year.

Frontex refused a second time - but this time arguing they did not have the information requested.

"It is confusing that Frontex argues about the same fact in two different ways," said Rego, in her complaint to the European Ombudsman.

She also shed doubt on Frontex's argument that revealing the location data of ships months ago would somehow be used by traffickers today.

"In an effort to deal with the matter as soon as possible, I have contacted Frontex," confirmed European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, in a letter to Rego.

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