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2nd Oct 2023

Frontex left 'traumatised' says caretaking leadership

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Some staff at the EU's border police agency Frontex refuse to go to work because of its poor reputation on rights abuse, said its caretaking chief, Aija Kalnaja.

"The agency is and was traumatised," Kalnaja told European lawmakers on Monday (30 May).

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"And being absolutely honest to this house, some refuse to come to the agency because of its reputation," she said.

The comments come after the recent shock resignation of Fabrice Leggeri, who had headed the Warsaw-based agency since 2015.

Leggeri had courted controversy over the years following numerous reports of illegal pushbacks along the external borders of the European Union.

Olaf, the EU's anti-fraud office, had also launched a probe recommending disciplinary measures be taken against Leggeri and two additional senior Frontex leaders.

He resigned amid claims that the agency's mandate had been surreptitiously changed, suggesting it was being turned into "a fundamental rights body."

The European Commission had denied it and now so too has Kalnaja.

"Nothing has changed with the mandate, we just have to implement it," she said.

With Leggeri gone, Frontex is now looking for new permanent leadership.

Kalnaja has since stepped into the role as a caretaker until someone else is recruited.

She has promised to make the agency more transparent and accountable and compliant with fundamental rights.

This includes having all 40 fundamental rights monitors in place by the end of November, she said.

She said their recommendations also needed to be acted on, including those made by the consultative forum.

The forum is composed of civil advocacy groups that provide the agency with advice on rights issues.

"We need transparency. Also the agency needs transparency. Mismanagement within the agency simply cannot happen. It cannot continue," she said.

Kalnaja also said that the agency requires a change in culture. The admission suggests that the issues pertaining to fundamental rights are not taken seriously.

"A change of culture will not happen in one day. Neither in the agency nor in the EU," she said.

She would not say whether the agency would withdraw from Greece, where numerous pushbacks have been reported over the years.

"I can say many things today here, but it doesn't matter what I say. What matters is what we deliver," she said.

Similar issues on Frontex are set to be discussed by EU ministers on 10 June at a so-called "Schengen Council".

Frontex is set to have some 10,000 armed border guards by 2027. But its annual recruitment targets are not being met.

The agency was supposed to have recruited 6,500 staff, including short-term contracts, by the end of last year.

It found 5,900, according to an internal EU document from the French EU presidency.

By mid-May, it had recruited 835 permanent staff when its target was 1,000.

It currently has some 1,800 standing corps officers in 18 operations in more than 200 locations.

This comes at a time when the agency is intensifying cooperation with countries like Nigeria, Senegal, and Mauritania. It is also in talks with Morocco.

It is stepping up returns of people and has sent home over 8,000 so far this year, a 40 percent increase when compared to the same period last year.

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