Today, February 23, 2021, met for the first time the Frontex investigation team of the European Parliament. It consists of 14 MEPs, of which I am one. The central question is whether the agency has systematically committed human rights violations. In four months' time, the group will present its first report. Even after the first inquiry, the group will continue to look into Frontex.
The accusations against the EU agency Frontex are serious. Greek officials are dragging masses of refugees out to sea and the agency is watching or even actively helping. This is proven by investigative research by independent media.
Frontex shows little interest in reconnaissance so far
On the other hand, there is little interest in reconnaissance at Frontex. Frontex internal documents show that the agency was trying to cover up crimes. Frontex chief Fabrice in particular Leggeri prevented the investigation... and also lied to us MEPs when he was summoned to the European Parliament. The following day, even Frontex's press department had to admit that Leggeri had lied.
Despite the burden of proof, the Frontex Director continues to claim that he has no knowledge of these incidents and that Frontex is complying with human rights law. However, Leggeri himself has sent questions to the Member States concerned regarding human rights violations. It is therefore not credible that he knows nothing at all.
Federal police involved in pushback
There are a large number of cases where Frontex is accused of human rights violations. For example, on August 10, 2020, a ship with a German crew stopped and pushed back an inflatable boat carrying refugees. Thus, German federal police officers are also involved in such activities. With the magazine Frontal 21 spoke a federal police officer also about the fact that officials are expected to break existing law and basic human rights.
On the morning of 10 August 2020, at around 6 a.m., the German ship "DEU CPB 62", dispatched to Frontex, observes a rubber dinghy with about 40 people in Greek waters, not far from the island of Samos. It sails there, stops the boat and informs the Greek coast guard. The coast guard appears a few minutes later and takes over the situation. The German ship leaves the scene. The Greek coastguard's report subsequently states that the people seeking protection on the rubber dinghy had changed course and had returned to Turkish waters. When asked, the Greek officials confirmed that they had carried out "border protection measures to prevent a landing on Samos".
Frontex observes pushback, but Leggeri does not classify it as a violation of fundamental rights
Another important case occurred on the night of 18-19 April 2020, when a Frontex reconnaissance aircraft flew over the Eastern Mediterranean and observed protection seekers on a Greek Coast Guard vessel and their empty inflatable boat being pulled by the Greek boat. Two hours later, the Frontex aircraft observes the protection seekers being returned to the inflatable boat by the Greek Coast Guard patrol boat, with another speedboat waiting in the immediate vicinity. Frontex also clearly states at this point that there are no Turkish boats in the vicinity.
A few minutes later, at around 2.45 a.m. on 19 April 2020, the Frontex aircraft takes a picture of the Greek boat pulling the leashed inflatable boat with the protection seekers on board towards Turkish waters. Half an hour later, Frontex observes that the inflatable boat has no engine and the Greek boats move away from the vicinity of the boat. The next afternoon, Greek authorities confirm that the dinghy was spotted by the Turkish coast guard and taken to the Turkish mainland. Frontex officials reported the incident and Fabrice Leggeri turned to the Greek government, However, in the end, the court did not classify the case as a violation of fundamental rights.
Working group to be set up in the European Parliament
The European Parliament's Committee on Home Affairs has summoned Frontex on this several times, but we MEPs have simply been lied to. The committee has submitted written questions, but the answers have been rather modest.
The European Parliament's inquiry group will now examine the available evidence and procedures and answer the question of whether Frontex is disregarding its mandate, contributing to human rights violations and acting contrary to the EU's fundamental values and founding principles. After the initial inquiry, the group will continue to exist to monitor and scrutinise Frontex's activities.
Our goals in the working group
I am glad that the working group was set up on the initiative of the Greens/EFA Group. With my group colleague Tineke Strik, who is responsible for the first report, I will work in the investigation group to investigate the allegations against Frontex. Concrete Green objectives are the following:
- the drafting of an evidence-based report on the allegations against Frontex
- Recommendations to Frontex to be implemented by the Agency
- A consideration of fundamental rights in the mandates of the Agency
- Changing the working culture at Frontex
- Transparent reporting by Frontex to the public and to the European Parliament, to which it is accountable.
- an ongoing, transparent review of the work of Frontex