Today, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor published a new report that documents and analyses the involvement of Frontex in Greece's illegal pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers to Turkish waters and the various violations of International and EU human rights laws entailed.
The report, entitled "Frontex: Accountability Declined”, highlights a pattern of the excessive and alarming autonomy of Frontex, as its budget, role and staff are augmented by the EU without clear legal boundaries.
In the 10 pushbacks presented, carried out by the Greek Coast Guard in the Aegean Sea between March and October 2020, Frontex vessels were either in close proximity or directly involved. Yet they did not immediately rescue the migrants in distress at sea nor did they report the abuses witnessed, as international and European law, together with the Frontex Code of Conduct itself, demand. On the contrary, Frontex dismissed the allegations, discouraged crews from filing reports on pushbacks, and, in some cases, stopped initial alerts of violations from being filed.
The episodes presented in the report stand out for the severity of the violations committed, the detailed evidence reported, and the reactions provoked so far at the European level.
The allegations led the EU Ombudsman to open an inquiry and the EU Home Affairs Commissioner to call for two extraordinary Frontex Management Board meetings and to establish a Working Group on fundamental rights. It will verify the allegations and deliver its first report next meeting, on January 21, 2021. In the meanwhile, several European MEPs have called for the immediate resignation of Frontex Executive Director.
Euro-Med Monitor’s report aims to contribute to increasing the momentum and pressure on the European Commission to take concrete actions towards ending Frontex’s violations and increasing its transparency.
“As the role and the powers of Frontex grow alarmingly, with an increasing budget of over 460 million Euro and new and controversial military drones to surveil the Mediterranean, its involvement in Greek pushbacks increases, and so should its accountability,” Michela Pugliese, Legal Researcher at the Euro-Med Monitor.
The report stresses the need to hold Frontex into account. While return decisions and asylum applications are the responsibility of Member States, Frontex has the competence to ensure human rights’ compliance at the European external borders, to prevent violations from occurring and to report it when it witnesses one.
In the report, the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor formulate several recommendations calling inter alia on:
- Frontex to immediately halt the illegal pushbacks of migrants to Turkey; to conduct a transparent investigation and prosecute all officials involved; to ensure that its operations and partners are consistent with human rights’ obligations; and to significantly enhance the information available about its operational activities at sea.
- Europe to hold Frontex, as well as Greece, accountable for their pushbacks and other violations committed at the European external borders; to impose more stringent transparency and accountability measures over Frontex’s practices; to ensure that Frontex activities fully respect international human rights and refugee law, as well as the law of the sea; and to quickly put in place an independent monitoring mechanism.