2nd Oct 2023

Frontex confirms chief read Olaf report, but still keeps Greek operations

  • Greece has been accused of illegal pushbacks, something it continues to deny (Photo: Turkish Coast Gaurd)
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The EU's border police Frontex remains under tight scrutiny following the leak of a damning report by the EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf.

Earlier this week, the Warsaw-based EU agency confirmed its new chief, Aija Kalnaj, has read the 129-page classified document.

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"Frontex Executive Director ad interim Aija Kalnaja had an opportunity to read the Olaf report," said the agency, in an email on Thursday (6 October).

The report, leaked to Der Spiegel , Le Monde and LightHouse Reports over the summer, details grave violations that led to the ouster of its executive-director Fabrice Leggeri in April.

They say it provides detailed evidence of Greek human rights violations, which Frontex knew about but then decided to cover up.

Those violations include the Greek Coast Guard towing refugees in inflatable rafts back towards Turkey, some witnessed by Frontex.

Greek authorities were also piling pressure on Frontex agents not to document violations, according to the outlets, again citing the Olaf report.

Critics say such violations now require the agency to suspend operations in Greece.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, also chimed in.

"In Greece, pushbacks at land and sea borders have become de facto general policy," he had said, earlier this year.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) had itself recorded hundreds of incidents, involving some 17,000 people reportedly returned by force to Turkey between 2020 and 2021 alone.

Greece has always denied any wrong doing. The Olaf report has only piled on further evidence of the violations, possibly implicating the agency itself.

When queried about the Olaf report, Kalnaja in July told the European Parliament that she had had no access to it.

But now that she has seen the Olaf evidence, the question was posed by this website on whether Kalnaja has since shifted her thinking about the agency's past operations.

'Rules followed' in Greece

But Frontex refused to comment on the Olaf report itself and instead appeared resolute that it had done nothing wrong in the Aegean.

"We would like to reiterate that Frontex's actions in the Aegean Sea region had been carried out in compliance with the applicable legal framework, including in accordance with the responsibilities stemming from fundamental rights," said the agency.

It further added that it is not involved in pushbacks, that its staff is instructed to report any potential violation of fundamental rights to the agency's Fundamental Rights Officer, and that it cannot investigate incidents in member states.

It says they have reinforced the role of the rights officer, revised how it issues so-called serious incident reports (SIR), and is currently working to instigate further reforms.

"Frontex has been able to launch 60 SIR reports to date in 2022, compared to 40 over the same period in 2021," it said, as an example.

But lawyers at front-LEX, a Dutch-based civil society organisation, published entire sections of the Olaf report on Wednesday, shedding doubt on those claims.

One section says two departments within Frontex had confirmed the credibility of pushbacks in the Aegean, yet no serious incidents reports were launched.

Another says the agency had relocated aerial assets to avoid witnessing possible violations taking place off the Greek coast.

European lawmakers sitting on a committee oversee budgets also remain wary.

On Thursday, they refused to sign off on Frontex's 2020 accounts given the "magnitude of the committed serious misconduct" under Leggeri's command.

They also faulted the agency for not following up some of the recommendations, including clarity of its border surveillance operations in Greece where pushbacks were taking place.

Other issues also remained unresolved under Leggeri's command, including 17 reported sexual harassment cases. At least one staff, who had allegedly suffered the sexual abuse, committed suicide.

That case is now being re-opened.

Frontex left 'traumatised' says caretaking leadership

Aija Kalnaja took over Frontex as a caretaker after its executive director Fabrice Leggeri resigned last month. On Monday, she promised more transparency and better management of the Warsaw-based agency.

Frontex caretaker leader could face EU court

Lawyers at front-LEX, a Dutch-based civil society organisation, are threatening legal action against EU border agency Frontex unless it suspends operations in Greece.

Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs

Terezija Gras from Croatia, Dutchman Hans Leijtens, and Frontex's current interim executive director Aija Kalnaja, are all competing for a job left vacant by the resignation of Fabrice Leggeri.

EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making

Emily O'Reilly cited the post-pandemic recovery funds, the windfall taxes on energy companies, and the joint purchase of vaccines, as procedures which received limited scrutiny from the national parliaments — as a result of emergency decision-making powers that bypassed parliament.

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