The European Union has been called out for its “half-hearted and ineffective” attempts to hold its border guards, Frontex, accountable and for failing to condemn pushbacks and other violent practices at its borders.
Amnesty International published a scathing report this week called “Greece: Violence, Lies, and Pushbacks.” It looked at the situation for refugees and migrants that are still denied safety and asylum at EU borders.
It takes a detailed look at the escalating political tensions between Greece and Turkey and the pushbacks and other human rights violations along the border while preventing people from entering the EU. These pushbacks “trample migrants and refugees’ rights” and are “aided by a climate of impunity.”
Amnesty claims that those on the border are “targets of complex and coordinated operations across the country, aimed at transferring them within proximity to the Evros land border to expel them.”
It also highlighted how the EU has failed to reconcile its human rights commitments with its role in controlling Greece’s border. Additionally, Amnesty said they have not managed to demand actions to bring Greece’s actions and policies in line with the EU’s founding values.
“The incidents documented for this report all resulted in forced returns that violate Greek, EU, and international human rights law. Additionally, the methods used to intercept, apprehend, and return migrants and refugees, which include the use of violence and arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and possibly torture, often amounted to violations in their own right,” the report noted.
The report recommends that the EU and its member states take urgent measures to ensure that Greece stops violating the human rights of refugees and migrants at its borders. This should include the commencement of infringement proceedings against Greece and an effective and independent monitoring mechanism to keep human rights in check.
It also suggests that Frontex should consider suspending or withdrawing its deployment in Greece due to evidence of continuing human rights violations.
It notes that Frontex has received “strong criticism for their inadequacy” about filing reports on human rights violations. However, these so-called Serious Incident Reports and Frontex’s own complaint mechanism are open to anyone who has been directly affected by the behavior or inaction of Frontex staff.
The report noted a limited number of such reports, which seems strange considering the “persistent allegations of pushbacks” at the border.
Amnesty also noted severe gaps in fundamental rights reporting and the accountability mechanisms established by Frontex.
But this is not the first criticism Frontex has received.
Frontex has recently been accused of illegally deporting refugees and migrants from the Greek-Albanian border.
According to an investigation conducted by Deutsche Welle, migrants in Greece that are trying to reach Western Europe accused the EU’s border guards of “pushback.”
Several individuals spoke to the media and said they had experienced such behavior. One man said he walked from Ioannina to the Albanian border, not encountering any Greek police. He claimed that Frontex staff stopped in Albania and handed him over to the authorities in Kakavia. He then asked the Albanian authorities for asylum but was told they couldn’t apply due to COVID-19, and were sent back to Greece without the Greek authorities being notified. The man in question attempted once again and made it to Tirana before heading through Kosovo to Serbia.
Refugee aid organizations have claimed that pushback happens at the border between North Macedonia and Albania as well. Moreover, they claim it occurs daily.
A Frontex spokesperson told DW that they hadn’t found any credible evidence to support the allegations.
In October, Exit interviewed an individual involved in transporting migrants from Greece to Tirana and then onwards to an EU Member State. They told Exit that those caught in Albania are interviewed by the police, then taken back and dropped over the border with Greece. They added that those that are pushed back try again and are often back in Albania 24 hours later.
The European Anti-Fraud Office then launched an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, maltreatment, and illegal deportation of immigrants. There were also claims of illegal operations intended to keep migrants from reaching EU shores.
Their name was also mentioned in a report by Privacy International that accused the EU of “equipping and training authorities, influencing laws, and developing mass-scale biometric databases in non-member countries” and providing “digital tools of surveillance” that could be used to “crush political and civil freedoms and undermine democracy” unless urgent reforms are made.
Frontex was found to have given training in Albania, which taught participants how to secure evidence for intelligence purposes, including from mobile phones, how to acquire fingerprints from people, including children and those with disabilities, and some basic self-defense techniques.
FRONTEX also organized training in Croatia in 2019, where Albanian authorities were present. They were instructed on using technical equipment for land border surveillance, radio communication, and techniques for searching people and vehicles.
When called out on various incidents, it was found that the majority of cases were dismissed. Earlier this year, in eight out of 13 cases, Frontex said 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.