Further investigation by Der Spiegel on its initial report on Frontex knowing about refugee “pushbacks” show agency director was aware of at least one violation.
European border security agency Frontex's director Fabrice Leggeri has been aware of systematic refugee "pushbacks" from Greece to Turkey in the Aegean Sea.
In a "Serious Incident Report", Frontex officials have recorded incidents violating fundamental rights, incidents that implicate their own border officials, German Der Spiegel news website reported.
Spiegel said Leggeri was aware of at least one violation, accusing him of trying to cover up for Frontex.
A Frontex document shows Leggeri was informed on May 8 about some 30 refugees who were dragged from Greece into Turkish waters by Greek border guards on the night of April 18 – an incident observed by the EU border agency.
Results of an investigation released on October 23 by Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, ARD and Asahi TV revealed the border agency's role in several pushbacks which experts say is likely illegal.
A video from a June incident allegedly showed a Frontex boat blocking a refugee boat.
Leggeri initially denied the allegations, saying Frontex officials were being implicated in "pushbacks" carried out by Greek border guards at sea.
"Pushbacks" are incidents where refugees or asylum seekers are illegally returned across a border to a country where they could face persecution.
The border agency then said it opened an internal inquiry over the media reports.
"We are looking into the accusations levelled by several news organisations related to our activities at Greece's external borders," Leggeri said in a statement.
But "so far, no documents or other materials have been found to substantiate any accusations of violations," the agency said.
Frontex has launched an internal inquiry into suspicious incidents recently reported by the media. So far, no documents or other materials have been found to substantiate any accusations of violations of the law or Frontex Code of Conduct https://t.co/CxQJU1JlvO— Frontex (@Frontex) October 27, 2020
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told German public radio Deutschlandfunk that any involvement in "pushbacks" would be "completely unacceptable".
"The director of Frontex must take full responsibility, investigate these cases and present an answer to what really happened," she said.
Brussels has vowed to propose a plan on member states sharing the responsibility for asylum seekers under a "compulsory solidarity mechanism".
Five years after the 2015 migration crisis, annual "irregular arrivals" are down to 140,000 a year, but EU members remain deeply divided on the issue.