An investigation by Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, ARD and Asahi TV reveals European Union’s coastal and border guard agency, Frontex, has been complicit in an illegal campaign of refugee pushbacks by Greece in the Aegean Sea.

Migrants arrive in a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesvos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey, on February 28, 2020.
Migrants arrive in a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesvos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey, on February 28, 2020. (AP)

European Union’s coastal and border guard agency, Frontex, is complicit in an illegal campaign of refugee pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, a joint investigation has revealed. 

Greece has been undertaking concerted operations to reduce the number of land and sea arrivals of asylum seekers, as well as remove some of those who have arrived and already sought international protection. 

Although Frontex has repeatedly denied involvement in these efforts, an investigation released on Friday by Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, ARD and Asahi TV revealed the agency's role which experts say is likely illegal.

In one June incident, an EU vessel blocked a dinghy carrying 47 asylum seekers and created waves to push it back. The Greek coast guard then forced the dinghy to Turkish waters where refugees were rescued by the Turkish coast guard. 

The report also documented an August 15 incident when a Romanian Frontex vessel witnessed a Greek and Turkish coastguard standoff. Greek coast guards pushed a boat carrying asylum seekers to Turkey's maritime border but the EU coast guard did not intervene or appear to record the incident.

One international legal expert told Bellingcat the incidents "violate the prohibition of refoulement and maritime law." Refoulement is an international principle that protects refugees from being forcibly sent back if they are at risk of facing rights violations. The EU is bound to prohibit such returns.

READ MORE: EU Parliament: Greece should be investigated over its treatment of refugees

Censoring reports

Pushback operations create a clear “radar signature” available to all vessels in the area and the investigation noted many of the reported pushback incidents could be traced to coordinates where Frontex vessels were within range.

Frontex works in a “spirit of camaraderie” with local (Greek) authorities, two sources from the body told the investigation and will “rarely if ever” react proactively when they observe wrongdoing. 

Frontex is obliged to rescue asylum seekers whenever they see a dinghy in distress.

READ MORE: UN urges Greece to investigate 'credible reports' of pushbacks

The Frontex director has, according to the report, acknowledged one such pushback incident was being investigated in conjunction with the Greek coast guard.

Refugees and migrants who have tried to report pushbacks met little success, Der Spiegel reported. It said Frontex recorded their complaints as "returns," sidestepping the use of "pushbacks" in the reports.

READ MORE: New EU migrant plan abandons refugee quotas for 'mandatory solidarity'

Source: TRT World