28th Mar 2023

Frontex rights officer suggests 'more Frontex' needed in Greece

  • The EU is helping Greece purchase 50 new patrol boats to the tune of €105m (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
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The head of human rights at the EU's border force Frontex suggested the agency should reinforce its presence in trouble spots like Greece given reports of abuse against asylum seekers.

"Yes, that still makes sense in my view, in all places where we see fundamental rights issues," said Jonas Grimheden, the agency's fundamental rights officer, in an email on Monday (20 February), when asked in the context of Greece.

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The comment appears to stand in contrast to a recent article in the New York Times. The Times story, citing confidential documents, said Grimheden had in fact recommended the agency withdraw its operations from Greece.

Asked to comment on the veracity of the article, Grimheden remained elusive.

"The story is rather an oversimplification of things, but I don't want to go into the details since that relates to the leverage that I have on seeing change," he said instead.

"I am using the tools at my disposal to the full extent where needed, but my main interlocutor is the Agency and the Management Board — and through that, national authorities. So I prefer to keep the discussion in that context," he added.

The documents cited by the Times says he had recommended the agency suspend operations given "credible reports" of abuse and violations by the Greek authorities against asylum seekers over the course of 2022.

Greece continues to deny any wrongdoing despite numerous reports of violations documented by journalists, civil society and a cover-up within the Warsaw-based agency that led to the resignation of its executive director, Fabrice Leggeri.

It is the executive director who can suspend or terminate operations where violations of fundamental rights are taking place in an EU member state by triggering an internal rule known as article 46.

Reversed article 46

The agency had triggered it for the first time in Hungary early 2021 following an European court judgement.

Hans Leijtens, the agency's new executive director, told MEPs last November that he would "have absolutely no constraints in applying article 46 if we arrive at that point."

The Dutchman, who also sat on the Frontex management board before becoming its executive director, said one of his primacy tasks was to ensure the legality of the agency's operations.

But last summer, Grimheden had also made the case of a so-called "reversed article 46", whereby more Frontex guards would be deployed in case of violations committed in the host member state.

"Reversed article 46 would be much better from the fundamental rights perspective," said Grimheden, at the time. "The more Frontex I see the more the information I have and the better picture I have," he said.

It is a position he maintains still today.

Best to keep Frontex in Greece, new rights officer suggests

Greece has drawn criticism and scrutiny for alleged widespread pushbacks of migrants in the Aegean Sea, along with the reported complicity of the EU's border agency Frontex. Critics say the agency should pull out of Greece.


Why Frontex won't leave Greece, like it left Hungary

After five years and a European Court ruling against Hungary, Frontex finally decided to leave the country, given Budapest's rights violations. Such alleged violations are also taking place in Greece - but the prospect of Frontex leaving is low.


Frontex suspends operations in Hungary

The EU's border and coast guard agency, Frontex will suspend operations in Hungary. The move follows a European Court of Justice ruling in December demanding Hungary stop pushing people back into Serbia.

Treat EU asylum stats 'with caution', warn NGOs

Recognition-rates for asylum hovers at around 40 percent across the EU (plus Norway and Switzerland), according to the European Union Agency for Asylum. But this seemingly-low figure doesn't include cases won on appeal and others who received humanitarian status.


EU migration policy will turn Greece into the jail of Europe

Europe is stepping back from its core values of human dignity, human rights and the rule of law, which have been the building blocks of the political edifice of the EU, writes Kostas Arvanitis MEP of Syriza/The Left.

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