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Damning report unveils Frontex cover-up of Greece's refugee pushbacks

  • 14 Oct 2022

Employees of EU's border agency were involved in covering up the illegal pushbacks of refugees and migrants from Greece to Türkiye in violation of their "fundamental rights," says European Union's anti-fraud watchdog in a new report.

Top managers at Frontex committed "serious misconduct and other irregularities" in covering up pushback incidents, says the report. ( AA Archive )

The European Union's border agency has been covering up illegal pushbacks of refugees and migrants by the Greek Coast Guard into Turkish territorial waters, a report by the bloc's anti-fraud office revealed.

According to the report by OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, which was made public on Thursday by the Germany-based freedom of information website FragDenStaat, Der Spiegel and Lighthouse Reports, Frontex has been withholding cases of possible human rights violations from its own fundamental rights officers, suspending aerial surveillance to avoid recording illegal activities, co-financing Greek units that carried out pushbacks and misleading the authorities responsible for overseeing the agency.

Top managers at Frontex committed "serious misconduct and other irregularities" in covering up pushback incidents, not investigating them or handling them correctly, the report found, but names were redacted.

"In doing so, they hindered the capacity of Frontex to fully comply with its responsibilities, namely ensuring for the protection and promotion of fundamental rights," the report read.

READ MORE: Germany's ZDF releases video of migrant pushback by Frontex, Greece

Frontex plane flys away as Greece endangers boat

The report was kept confidential for eight months until it was leaked to German outlets, FragDenStaat said.

Greek officials claim they haven't read the report and European Commissioner Margaritis Schinas of Greece, whose portfolio includes migration, declined to comment on whether he was informed himself of the allegations.

Human rights defenders, however, call on the EU to officially release the report to allow pushback victims to use its findings in court cases.

"The question in the coming years will be whether taxpayer money will continue to be used to help break the law at the EU's borders — or whether Frontex will be forced to comply with European law. The Schengen states, which control Frontex through the Management Board, apparently have little interest in such compliance," said the report carried by Der Spiegel.

On August 5, 2020, a member of Frontex reported his concerns in an email after a Frontex plane witnessed Greek authorities forcing a flimsy refugee boat back into Turkish waters.

"Towing an overcrowded fragile boat in the night towards the open sea is a situation that can seriously endanger the lives of the passengers," the email said. "Our aircraft was immediately instructed to fly away from the scene by the Hellenic coast guard expert."

READ MORE: Frontex interpreter becomes latest victim of Greece’s illegal pushbacks

Frontex termination sought

In recent years, Frontex has come under fire for the alleged mistreatment of refugees and migrants, often endangering their lives.

Türkiye and global rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece's illegal practice of pushing back asylum seekers, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable people, including women and children.

Earlier this year, Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri resigned amid the scandal. Greece granted Leggeri a state award in January, thanking him for helping the country lower the rate of incoming migrants.

Human rights groups have also documented other human rights violations on EU borders where Frontex operates.

"Frontex has repeatedly failed to take effective action when allegations of human rights violations are brought to its attention," said Eva Cosse, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Last week, front-LEX, an NGO challenging EU migration policies, filed a case at the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg seeking the immediate termination of Frontex operations in Greece based on the findings of the OLAF report.

"As long as Frontex is there, the Greek government has carte blanche to continue throwing migrants in the water to drown," front-LEX lawyers Omer Shatz and Iftach Cohen told The Associated Press.

READ MORE: Turkish drone records fresh Greek pushback of migrants in Aegean Sea

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