31st May 2023

Transparency lawsuit filed against Frontex

  • Libyan coast guard in Malta's search-and-rescue zone (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
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The EU's border police, Frontex, is being sued for refusing to release documents detailing its working relations with the Libyan coast guard.

The lawsuit was lodged at the EU General Court in Luxembourg in mid-April by the German sea rescue organisation Sea-Watch.

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Sea-Watch says they witnessed the Libyan coast guard intercept a boat of 20 people, with the likely help of a Frontex drone, during an incident inside the Maltese rescue zone on 30 July last year.

The alleged pull-back suggests the EU agency is actively working with the Libyans inside Malta's rescue zone, where they are then returned to a country rife with violent abuse.

It also suggests that they ignore nearby European flagged charity vessels in favour of the Libyans.

Along with pro-transparency group Fagdenstaat, Sea-Watch filed Frontex access to documents requests in the hopes of disclosing the agency's involvement with the Libyans on the 30 July incident.

The advocates say Frontex had identified 73 documents related to Libyan rescue in Maltese waters on that date, but has since refused to release them to the public.

"They are using their classic argument, saying they need to protect public security," said Luisa Izuzquiza of Fragdenstaat.

Fragdenstaat has, in the past, taken the Warsaw-based EU agency to court over a similar transparency case. It lost and had to pay €10,000 to cover Frontex's legal fees.

But Izuzquiza says this case is different because they are not asking for operational details, such as the location of a drone.

"We just want to know about the cooperation with the Libyan coast guard and so the nature of the lawsuit is actually quite different," she said.

Fabrice Leggeri, who heads the Warsaw-based agency, has previously said they pass on information to Libya's maritime rescue coordination centre in Tripoli.

The agency operates a large Heron drone used to locate boats of people seeking help. It covers a vast swath of area spanning Libya, Malta, and the south of Italy.

"In some cases, if Libya is competent, legally-speaking, because the distress is in the Libyan search and rescue zone, we share this information with the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre located in Tripoli," Leggieri said at an event in October last year.

But the Libyan guard is also operating in Malta's search and rescue zone — as witnessed by EUobserver while onboard the Ocean Viking on 1 July last year.

Ocean Viking had that same morning announced a Maltese Air Force drone was patrolling between Libya and Malta.

"That's information [on migrant vessel locations] that we will never have," said SOS Mediterranee's rescue coordinator Luisa Albera, during a morning briefing onboard the Ocean Viking on 1 July.

Later that same afternoon, a Libyan patrol attempted to intercept a boat well inside Malta's rescue area.

The Ocean Viking had then made numerous efforts to contact the Maltese coast guard to help coordinate the rescue — to no avail.

The Libyan boat eventually backed off, allowing the Ocean Viking to carry out the rescue anyway.

A Libyan patrol boat (PB 648 — Ras Jadir), only a day earlier, had been filmed shooting rounds near another boat full of people inside Matla's zone, generating international outcry.

On board with SOS Méditerranée

Malta refuses to help rescue involving disabled children

The Libyan Coast Guard intercepted a wooden boat of 30 people some 10 nautical miles inside Malta's search and rescue zone. But then suddenly let them go, allowing the Ocean Viking to perform its first rescue since leaving Marseille.

Frontex embroiled in new transparency case

Last October, Der Spiegel published an investigation into illegal pushbacks off the Greek islands, implicating the EU's border agency Frontex. Journalists asked Frontex to release location data of its vessels, so has an MEP - without success.

Frontex takes transparency activists to EU court

The EU border agency Frontex's annual budget for 2020 is €460m. Now they are launching court proceedings against two pro-transparency campaigners for not paying them €24,000 in legal fees after losing a case last year.

EU relying on 'ineffective' Greek body to probe pushback video

The European Commission says it cannot act on latest revelations by the New York Times of illegal pushbacks of asylum-seekers until authorities in Greece first conduct a national investigation. Critics say those same authorities are politically compromised and ineffective.

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