EU border agency accused of covering migrant pushback in Greece

Brussels – Growing evidence indicates that according to documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with officials, the EU border agency is embroiled in the illegal behavior of pushing migrants back to Turkey.

In at least one case, Frontex, known as the European Union’s Border Agency, has been charged with helping to violate it, when a crew said it reported it by agency officials Were discouraged from seeing that they had seen Greek officials loading the boat of migrants. Adrift in Turkish water.

The case is currently being investigated by Frontex. But this has raised suspicion that the agency that revives its role as a defender of the rule of law on the borders of the European Union is not only sporadically aware of such abuses, but that it plays a role in concealing them Plays.

“We are seeing an erosion of the rule of law on EU borders, which is willful,” said migration expert Gerald Noss. “It is a matter of deep concern as it is finishing the Refugee Convention on the continent on which it was built.”

Throughout this year, The New York Times and others have reported on increasing operations by the Greek Coast Guard to repel migrants from Greek waters to Turkey, with Greek officials denying the amount violated by international laws.

But the revelations that Frontex has seen have put the agency in a governance crisis that further jeopardizes the EU’s liberal values, once again enacting its own laws for refugees Is questioning Block’s commitment to keep.

The cases have highlighted the ambitions of strengthening the external borders at the center of the European Union’s ambitions and the inclusion of the bloc in the sensitive, enthusiastically shielded work of sovereign border defenders.

Frontex is the EU’s best-funded agency with a budget of more than $ 500 million, and will soon deploy the first uniformed officers in the history of the bloc. It has been specifically designed to help migrant-rescue operations as the burden of policing on the borders of Europe is most heavily placed on peripheral states such as Greece.

It was also intended as a deterrent to the mass arrival of refugees, which sowed political crises throughout Europe after 2015, and halted nationalist and populist movements.

Yet the Frontex has not been empowered to prevent national border defenders from violating, and it is unclear how it can play a role as a standard-bearer of EU laws when informing on national forces Risks the working relationships on which its operations depend.

Refugees arrived in the European Union five years ago and have reduced considerably since then, but thousands of refugees, many fighting wars in Afghanistan and Syria, still attempt crossings. Unlike the past, the Greeks and their government have behaved hostile to the new arrivals, which have ended years with bottling of asylum seekers in asylum camps on the Greek islands.

Greek and many other European governments are also growing in the belief that aggression in poor conditions at borders and migrant camps will try to make Europe less attractive to asylum seekers.

earlier this year, An analysis by The Times It is demonstrated that the Greek government had secretly expelled more than 1,000 asylum seekers, often sailing them to the edge of Greek territorial waters and leaving them in flamboyant inflatable life rafts in violation of international laws.

The Greek Coast Guard has rescued thousands of asylum seekers over the years, but has become much more aggressive this year, especially as Turkey has been used by immigrants to incite Greece Encourage them to cross the border.

The Greek government has denied that it is doing anything illegal in removing migrant boats from its national waters, marking the operations as strong border guards. But Mr Naus said the “denials are not serious,” and the practices are effectively being openly viewed by the trolls of the EU border.

Documents obtained by The Times describe that in the Coast Guard, sliced ​​with homogenous, codes, time-stamps and coordinates, a seemingly persistent ping-pong of migratory dinghies between Greek and Turkish waters, observer of ships or aircraft With fron crew in position.

Four officials with direct knowledge of Frontex operations said agency officials are discouraging the team from filing reports on pushback incidents, and, in some cases, filing preliminary notifications of violations as “critical incident reports” Is withheld from, as well as Greek officers after consultation.

They all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were worried about losing their jobs, or were not authorized to brief the press.

Frontex spokesman Chris Borowski said the agency took reporting of violations very seriously. “Borebacks are illegal under international law,” Mr. Borowski said.

In the latest case to come to light, a Swedish Coast Guard crew on deployment under Frontex saw a pushback to the Turkish waters of a boat full of migrants by Greek authorities. October 30 from the Greek island of Chios.

The Swedish crew was later advised by a Frontex official not to report it, documents reviewed by The Times show. The Swedish representative of Frontex’s management board described the incident, and in a meeting on 10 November, in the first known case of an EU member state reporting an active intervention by FRNX officials, of the suppression of the attempt to report Described.

The Swedish government did not comment. A spokesman for Frontex said the agency would not comment due to the “ongoing process”.

Frontex has been operating in Greece for over a decade, providing sea, land and aerial surveillance and rescue capabilities and deploying crew from other member states under its command.

The details now emerging deepen the agency into a governance crisis that began in October when a consortium of news organizations, including German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported On several occasions when the Frontex crew saw the pullback in Greece.

The European Commission, which is part of the Frontex Oversight system, but does not control the agency, pushed for a special investigation into these allegations and, in an emergency agency board meeting on 10 November, detailed questions in writing from its leadership Asked to answer.

On Wednesday, answers arrived four days late, just 15 hours before another meeting began to discuss the problems. Another emergency meeting has been called in December, adding to the pressure on the agency.

Frontex has promised an internal investigation, but in a letter seen by The Times, for example, quickly dismissed the allegations, saying it would look into the Swedish case, but that it had not yet found any evidence It happened.

How these investigations will be a big thing for the future of the shaking-fronts, which was once little more than a back-office operation in Warsaw, but now finds itself on the lines of the nettlesome issue of migration in which making Or the power to make. Break the governments.

In addition to helping member states with the arrival of asylum seekers, Frontex’s role as an EU agency by law is to respect fundamental rights, and to raise standards of human rights in national EU border agencies, which often There is not a strong culture to sustain them. .

But claims that Frontex does not take fundamental rights seriously which are growing sufficiently. In its budget of 460 million euros this year, only one million euros – about $ 548 million – was allocated for rights monitoring.

The agency was to appoint 40 fundamental-rights officers by 5 December, but the jobs have not yet been advertised. The agency is currently hiring for its boss, after years of staffing issues surrounding that position. A spokesperson for Frontex said the delay stemmed from the coronovirus epidemic.

Documents seen by The Times reveal how in one episode the Greek authorities were consulted before making a report, and were able to suppress it. On August 10, a German crew deployed by Frontex reported that a Greek Coast Guard vessel “adopted border control measures prohibiting landing for Samos.”

The expression refers to maneuvering and making waves around a dinghy to repel it. The incident was not recorded as a “serious incident” because, the document said, the Greek Coast Guard argued the activities “provide no basis” for initiating such reports.

Another incident, which was observed by a Frontex Aerial crew and explained its headquarters, took place on the coast of Lesbos in the evening of 18 April and lasted for more than five hours.

A dinghy was detected by the Greek authorities and about 20 migrants were rescued and put into a Greek Coast Guard ship shortly after midnight, with their empty dinghy being towed to the island by the Coast Guard.

But, at 2:45 pm, instead of being taken ashore, the migrants were put back on their dinghy and tugged on Turkish waters by the Greek Coast Guard, the Frontex Ariel crew reported.

After the events unfolded, the Greek command center twice asked the Frontex aircraft to change the course of its flight, which caused it to get away from the incident.

“At 03:21, Frantex Surveillance Aircraft stated that the rubber boat has no engine and is an adrift. According to the document, Greek properties are leaving the rubber boat out and leaving the region.

An extension of the incident and classifying it as a violation of fundamental rights was the internal frontex report “document rejected”.

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