Monday

8th Aug 2022

Dutch lawyers take Frontex to EU court over pushbacks

  • Greece has been accused of numerous pushbacks also at sea and along its land borders (Photo: Turkish Coast Gaurd)
Listen to article

The EU's border agency Frontex is being taken to the European Court of Justice by Dutch lawyers seeking damages for a Syrian family pushed back from Greece in 2016.

"What we are putting forward is respect for the rule of law, and that is not a leftwing or rightwing issue as far as we are concerned," Dutch lawyer Flip Schüller said on Wednesday (20 October) during an online discussion.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Schüller, along with counterpart Lisa-Marie Komp, are challenging the Warsaw-based agency in a case first launched almost four years ago.

A Syrian/Kurdish family with children aged 2, 5 and 7 had arrived on the Greek islands in October 2016.

They demanded asylum. The lawyers say the family had been told they would be flown to Athens because of their vulnerable status.

But they were instead shuffled onto a Frontex-operated return flight and sent back to Turkey.

During the flight, they were seated separately by guards and ordered not talk, triggering bouts of panic from their children.

Once landed in Turkey, the family were detained for two weeks before heading to northern Iraq out of fear they would be sent to Syria.

The lawyers then lodged a complaint with Frontex in January 2017.

"Frontex acknowledges that the treatment of the children during the flight was unacceptable," said Komp.

"However, Frontex takes the position that only Greece is to blame," she said.

Komp said the Luxembourg-based court case will attempt to assess whether Frontex itself bears liability for human rights violations in such operations.

She said Frontex's mandate in 2016 obliged it to carry out basic due diligence before an operation is launched, monitor its execution, and then evaluate its completion.

"We repeatedly requested Frontex to provide us with the documentation that shows that they actually complied with these due diligence obligations," she said, noting the agency is required to draft reports.

"None of these reports were provided by Frontex," she said.

"Frontex blindly flew these people from Greece to Turkey, and then takes the position 'well, it's all to blame on Greece'," she added.

She noted Frontex officers should, for example, ensure that a return decision had been issued.

Had they done their job properly, they would have realised that the family had not received such a decision, she said.

For its part, Frontex says it had provided Greece technical support of a return flight under the legal framework of the EU-Turkey Deal signed in 2016.

"We are currently examining the case and can therefore not comment on any details at this stage," it said, in an email.

It also added, that while it is responsible for the coordination of return operations, it does "not enter into the merits of return decisions issued by the member states."

Damages

It is not the first case against Frontex lodged at the EU court of justice. But it is the first time lawyers are seeking damages.

Another case demanding Frontex withdraw its operations from Greece was filed over the summer by front-LEX.

Hundreds of cases of push backs have been documented in Greece over the years amid consistent denials from Athens despite the evidence pointing to the contrary.

Another recent case lodged earlier this month by the NGO, Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), says Greek authorities had pushed back a Syrian family into Turkey along the land border - despite an injunction by the European Court of Human Rights.

For its part, the European Commission has been demanding Greece set up an independent monitor to ensure pushbacks do not take place.

Greece has been told to set up the monitor if it wants access to some €15m in additional EU funding for border management.

The socialist S&D group is now pressing the commission to link EU funds to the respect for human rights when it comes to pushbacks, in a letter sent on Wednesday to the president Ursula von der Leyen.

"We believe this approach should be applied to the entirety of migration and asylum funds, as a minimum, until the commission has sufficient evidence that pushbacks have ceased and countries engaging in systemic pushbacks fully comply with EU and international legislation in this area," they say.

The letter comes as EU heads of state and government are set to discuss pushbacks, which are illegal under EU and international law, at an EU summit starting Thursday.

This article was updated on 21 October, 2021 at 17:27 with a comment from Frontex

Frontex chief accused of possible rights 'cover up'

A group of MEPs delivered their final report into the EU's border agency Frontex. After a four-month probe, they found it had failed to take its responsibility to protect fundamental rights at Europe's external borders.

Lampedusa: The invisible migrant crisis at Europe's gate

Last weekend, Italy's Lampedusa island was again making headlines for being overrun with migrants. But, paradoxically, the crisis was more visible from TV news bulletins and social media than from the ground.

News in Brief

  1. Rhine river on the brink of closure for shipping
  2. Moldova sees 'prelude to war' with Russia-backed forces
  3. Taliban preventing Afghan evacuations to Germany
  4. Amnesty regrets 'distress' caused by Ukraine report
  5. Energy companies warn UK gas exports to EU are contaminated
  6. EU set for clash over rules on political adverts
  7. Three grain ships due to leave Ukraine on Friday
  8. EU on track to reach gas-storage November target

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Latest News

  1. Italy poised to elect far-right rulers
  2. UN chief demands access to nuclear plant after new attack
  3. Greek PM embroiled in spyware scandal
  4. How Ukraine made the case anew for an EU army
  5. 'We must take back institutions', Orban tells US conservatives
  6. Putin must lose Ukraine war, Nato chief says
  7. Let Taiwan's democracy shine brighter
  8. Droughts prompt calls to cut water use amid harvest fears

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us