Question: Pushbacks by Frontex in the Aegean Sea

In order to be able to exercise my parliamentary control function as a Member of the European Parliament, I have the opportunity to put questions to the European Commission. The Commission must answer these questions.
Together with other Members, I put the following questions to the Commission:

Subject: Illegal refoulement by Frontex in the Aegean Sea

The German news magazine "Der Spiegel" today published research entitled "Frontex implicated in illegal pushbacks". The research proves in detail that officials of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) know about the illegal practices of the Greek border guards - and are partly involved in illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea themselves. Even though the systematic breaches of the law by Greek authorities have been known or at least obvious for months, Frontex has mostly denied even knowing about these illegal refoulements on the open sea.

The activities of Frontex and the Greek coast guard described in the article refute the Greek government's statements that border protection is being carried out in accordance with international law. Now Frontex is apparently also increasingly involved in the illegal activities.

1. since when has the Commission had information about the illegal practices of the Greek border guards or Frontex in operations at the Greek external EU border?

2. what measures the Commission intends to take to clarify these cases and ensure that international and Union law are complied with by its own agency?

3. whether the Commission is aware that, since March 2020 at the latest, EU Member States have been systematically breaking EU law at the EU's external borders, where people are mistreated and their lives put in danger, or whether the answer to this question also skilfully avoids the reality of the situation?

Answer given by Commissioner Ylva Johansson on behalf of the European Commission on 11/02/2021:

The Commission takes the allegations of pushback very seriously. Subject to the competences of the European Commission as guardian of the Treaties, national authorities are primarily responsible for the correct transposition and application of EU law. The Commission has repeatedly expressed its concerns about such reports. It has made clear that Member States have border surveillance tasks under the Schengen Borders Code.[1] fully respect fundamental rights, ensure access to international protection and guarantee protection against refoulement in accordance with Union and international law. In this context, the Commission has also urged the Greek authorities to investigate, in accordance with their competence, any alleged wrongdoing. Against this background, it is worth recalling the new migration and asylum package proposed by the Commission, which provides for all Member States to establish an independent monitoring mechanism to ensure the protection of fundamental rights at the external borders. At the formal request of the Commission, an urgent extraordinary meeting of the Management Board of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) was convened on 10 November 2020 to discuss allegations of pushback operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Management Board shared the view that there was an urgent need to investigate all aspects of this matter. At the Management Board meeting of 25/26 November 2020, the matter was further discussed and a working group was established to investigate the matter in accordance with the procedure set out in Regulation[2] to further examine the established allocation of responsibilities. A second extraordinary meeting of the Management Board was convened on 9 December 2020 to review the Executive Director's written replies to questions from several members of the Management Board, including the Commission, and more generally to monitor progress in the internal investigation into alleged refoulement of migrants in the Aegean Sea.[3] The European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and the Secretariat General of the European Parliament are closely involved in this ongoing process and have also addressed oral and written questions to the Executive Director of the Agency. Frontex has also taken steps to fill more quickly the posts of Fundamental Rights Officer and Fundamental Rights Observers provided for in the Agency's founding Regulation.

[1] Regulation (EU) 2016/399 establishing a Union Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code) (OJ L 77, 23.3.2016, p. 1).

[2] Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 November 2019 on the European Border and Coast Guard (OJ L 295, 14.11.2019, p. 1).