The European Union agency deployed at the Greek border is failing to hold itself accountable for abuses, NGOs say.
International non-governmental organisations are increasingly accusing Frontex, the EU’s border agency, of failing to deal with migrant abuse, or being complicit in the crimes against them at the Greek border.
A Human Rights Watch statement on Tuesday said Frontex’s response to the allegations that its border patrols were involved in the pushbacks of asylum seekers, raises questions regarding the agency’s willingness to hold itself accountable.
Mare Liberum, a German NGO, last year accused Frontex of being complicit in "systematic and illegal expulsions" of the Greek coast guard that is systematically pushing migrants back towards Turkey.
A report in October 2020, released after a joint media investigation, also repeated the same sentiment saying that Frontex was actively involved in the pushbacks by the Greek Coast Guard (HCG). The incidents that the investigation looked into were likely to be “illegal” and “violate the prohibition of refoulement and maritime law,” the report said.
Another german NGO, FragDenStaat, says that Frontex tried to prevent these claims from being publicised once again.
The group recently published an internal report detailing the extent of Frontex’s involvement in the pushbacks, filing a complaint to the European Ombudsman that works to promote good governance within the EU.
Frontex has published findings from an internal probe looking into the allegations from March 5. The inquiry concluded that “no third-country nationals were turned back in contravention of the principle of non-refoulement,” in 8 of 13 incidents examined.
However, the investigation neither provides details about these incidents, nor resolves the five other incidents.
After the report, HRW said there were serious concerns that Frontex may have become complicit in abuse at Greek borders.
“The documents (FragDenStaat and Frontex internal probe report) also raise questions about the way the agency handled and investigated these allegations,” HRW 's statement read.
“The inquiry failed to look into scores of other incidents that affected thousands of people – including many people picked up after reaching the shores of the Greek islands, who were then placed on Greek Coast Guard vessels and abandoned in small inflatable rafts at sea,” HRW said.
Despite mounting pressure, Frontex management has denied opening an investigation regarding the claims.
For months, Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri said his agency wasn’t aware of the pushbacks. He also said - claimed in a letter to the EU Commission on November 11th - there was no evidence that Frontex was involved in the incidents reported in the media.
EUobserver reported a claim that Frontex officers were actively discouraged from filing reports in order to avoid consequences.
“Frontex’s management board says it is concerned about the effectiveness of reporting and monitoring mechanisms within the agency and wants improvements,” HRW statement said.
“But if it is serious about addressing Frontex’ failures to uphold rights, the board should examine a much larger spectrum of reported abuses and press Frontex to reconsider operations when abuses are committed under its oversight.”