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Pushbacks in Greek Waters Put Lives at Risk

Border Patrol Agency has a Duty to Protect Human Rights

An officer from the European Union’s border protection agency, Frontex, holds the arm of a migrant as they board a ferry in the port of Mytilini, Lesbos island, Greece, on Friday, April 8, 2016. © 2016 AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

Mounting evidence suggests the Greek government has been secretly expelling thousands of migrants trying to reach its shores. An EUObserver article published on November 18 also suggests the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) is aware of this practice.

A redacted email chain from Frontex, made available to the EUObserver following a freedom of information request, shows the Hellenic Coast Guard gave orders in March to a Danish patrol boat taking part in the Frontex-run Operation Poseidon to push people back into Turkish waters.

According to Politico, the Danish police chief in charge of the patrol boat told Danish media the crew had rescued 33 people “when they received a radio order from Operation Poseidon’s headquarters to put the migrants back into to their dinghy and tow it out of Greek waters.” The Danish crew refused and took the group to the island of Kos.

In response to a request for information about the incident, Frontex told Human Rights Watch the Danish crew had been given “incorrect instructions” and the “misunderstanding” was later clarified.

On October 23, a group of media outlets published a detailed investigative report alleging Frontex involvement in pushback operations at the Greek-Turkish maritime border, in the Aegean Sea. The report said asylum seekers and migrants were prevented from reaching EU soil or forced out of EU waters.

Frontex’s mandate obliges all officers participating in its missions to respect fundamental rights. It also tasks the agency’s director to withdraw financing, suspend, or terminate activities if serious violations of fundamental rights are committed by officers of the country hosting the operations.

Allegations like these deepen concerns about the agency’s involvement in – or turning a blind eye to – abuses against people arriving at EU borders. On November 10, Frontex’s Management Board called for investigations into allegations of the agency’s involvement in abuses and questioned its reactions to violations committed by officers.

Frontex has a responsibility to do everything possible to prevent unlawful pushbacks.

Greece’s national authorities, including parliament, should step up now and do all they can to investigate why and how any illegal acts are occurring and if they are part of a de facto government policy and put an end to these life-threatening practices.

We cannot continue to tolerate failure to address the serious allegations of pushbacks and violence against people at Greece’s borders.

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