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Frontex Turns a Blind Eye to Greece’s Border Abuses

Internal Inquiry Only Exposed Tip of the Iceberg

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

An internal probe looking into allegations that the EU border patrol agency, Frontex, is involved in, among other abuses, pushbacks of asylum seekers and migrants at Greece’s sea border with Turkey, raises questions about its willingness or capacity to hold itself accountable.

In eight of 13 incidents examined, the inquiry found "no third-country nationals were turned back in contravention of the principle of non-refoulement." But the investigation provided no details on these incidents. Five other incidents remained unresolved.

Documents obtained by the German pro-transparency group FragDenStaat [Ask The State] and shared with the EUobserver on March 5 offer detailed information into the five unresolved incidents. These documents, in combination with Frontex’s internal probe report, raise serious concerns that Frontex may have become complicit in abuses at Greece’s sea borders.

The documents also raise questions about the way the agency handled and investigated these allegations. There’s a troubling similarity between these incidents and many others documented by independent groups and media outlets in recent years.

Reports from 2020, including from Human Rights Watch, recorded multiple incidents in which Greek coast guard personnel, sometimes accompanied by armed masked men, intercepted, attacked, disabled, and pushed back boats carrying migrants.

With one exception, the incidents analyzed by the inquiry were the few that were reported on internally at Frontex. But 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.

The report also failed to look into violent pushbacks at Greece’s land border with Turkey, where Frontex has deployed officers for over a decade.

Frontex’s management board says it is concerned about the effectiveness of reporting and monitoring mechanisms within the agency and wants improvements. 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. The EU Commission has fundamental responsibilities that cannot be shirked. It cannot tolerate the failure to address allegations of pushbacks and violence against people, including those seeking protection, at the EU’s borders.

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