During an internal investigation into allegations that Frontex is involved in illegal pushbacks and other abuses, the majority of cases were dismissed.
In eight out of 13 cases, Frontex found that “no third-country nationals were turned back in contravention of the principle of non-refoulment.” Five other incidents remain unresolved and no further information was provided.
“The Management Board takes note, that in total -8- out of the -13- examined incidents were clarified to the effect that no third-country nationals were turned back in violation of the principle of non-refoulment, or otherwise in violation of Article 80(2) of Regulation (EU) 2019/1896. In particular, -6- out of these -8- incidents took place entirely in Turkish Territorial Waters.
The Management Board also takes note that, despite the additional evidence gathered and reviewed by the Group, it has not been possible to establish the facts related to all five plus one incident that remained to be examined following the Group’s preliminary report.”
Documents obtained by FragDenStaat, a German pro-transparency group provide detailed information on these five unresolved cases and when combined with the Frontex internal investigation report, raise several concerns that the agency may have been complicit in abuses at Greece’s sea borders.
There are also concerns that the agency did not handle and investigate the allegations properly and is unwilling to hold itself accountable.
There have been multiple reports since 2020 about incidents where the Greek Coast Guard and masked men, intercepted, attacked, and pushed back boats full of migrants trying to reach the country.
Human Rights Watch has said the Frontex inquiry failed to look into “scores of other incidents that affected thousands of people” who reported they were picked up and then “abandoned in small inflatable rafts at sea.”
They noted that the report also failed to look into “violent pushbacks” at the Greek border with Turkey where Frontex staff have been deployed for over a decade.
HRW said “The EU Commission has fundamental responsibilities that cannot be shirked. It cannot tolerate the failure to address allegations of pushbacks and violence against people, including those seeking protection, at the EU’s borders.”
There have also been allegations that pushbacks are happening at the border with Albania and Greece. Two investigations by German media claimed they had interviewed people who had been pushed back illegally by who they believed were Frontex staff. Some reported being refused the right to apply for asylum and being sent over the border without the notification of the Greek authorities.
Again, Frontex denied that such incidents took place.
Then in October, Exit interviewed someone involved in people smuggling from the Greek border to Tirana. He told Exit that those who are caught near the Greek border are interviewed and then dropped back over the border without any involvement of Greek authorities. He added that those who are pushed back, often try again and end up in Albania 24 hours later.
The State Police and Interior Ministry have refused on three occasions to answer freedom of information requests on the matter. Exit has asked how many migrants came into Albania in 2020, what the process is for dealing with them when they are caught, and how many apply for asylum.
Yesterday, Albania signed a new agreement with Frontex after government officials called the previous collaboration “a success story”.
It was also reported that Frontex are hoping to have thier guards in Greece armed by the summer.
This would make them some of the first armed EU officials, deployed to other Member States.
Frontex which is based in Warsaw, Poland considers itself a “law-enforcement force” and has been attempting to get its legal standing relating to carrying weapons, clarified for some time. It has been approved for the carrying of weapons in Poland, but so far has not been granted permission to do so elsewhere.
Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri told MEPs this week that they have reached a “bridging agreement” with Athens that would allow Frontex guards to carry weapons in Greece.
“We are a fully-fledged EU agency…but we are also more a fully-fledged European law enforcement force,” he said.
He confirmed that background checks are ongoing for those guards that will be carrying weapons.
“We are in the process of vetting the category one staff so that we can deploy them with use of force,” he said.