Frontex covered up Greek migrant pushbacks, EU report concludes

Frontex covered up Greek migrant pushbacks, EU report concludes
Top managers at EU border agency Frontex committed 'serious misconduct and other irregularities' in covering up incidents, not investigating or handling them correctly, an EU anti-fraud watchdog report found, but names were redacted.
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The 120-page EU anti-fraud watchdog report was made public on Thursday [Daniel Day/Getty-file photo]

A much-anticipated report by the European Union's anti-fraud watchdog into the alleged involvement of the EU border agency Frontex in Greece's illegal pushbacks of migrants to Turkey has concluded that agency employees were involved in covering up such incidents in violation of peoples' "fundamental rights".

The 120-page OLAF report was made public on Thursday by the Germany-based freedom of information portal FragDenStaat together with media organisations Der Spiegel and Lighthouse Reports.

Top managers at Frontex committed "serious misconduct and other irregularities" in covering up incidents, not investigating or handling them correctly, the report found, but names were redacted.

"In doing so, they hindered the capacity of Frontex to fully comply with its responsibilities, namely ensuring for the protection and promotion of fundamental rights," the report read.

Pushbacks, the forcible return of people across an international border without an assessment of their rights to apply for asylum or other forms of protection, violate both international and EU law.

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OLAF investigators poured over information from open sources, media reports but also documents from Frontex, the European Commission and interviews with 20 witnesses to investigate accusations of possible involvement and/or covering up of illegal pushbacks and accusations of misconduct or irregularities.

"OLAF concludes, based on the evidence collected during the investigation, that the allegations are proven," the report read.

There was no immediate comment from Frontex or Greek authorities on the report.

Earlier this year, Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri resigned following the OLAF report, which was concluded in February, as well as repeated media investigations that accused the agency of involvement in pushbacks.

Until now, the report has not been made public.

The report details how pushback accusations and evidence of them were mishandled, often not reported or investigated accordingly to Frontex's own rules.

Frontex officers also may not have reported alleged pushbacks due to fear of repercussions from Greece, the report said.

In one case, the report said the EU border agency relocated one of its planes apparently "to avoid witnessing incidents in the Aegean Sea".

EU investigators also noted that Frontex shared incorrect and biased information with EU institutions, including members of the European Commission and Parliament, responsible for holding the agency accountable, as well as OLAF investigators.

"I welcome that the OLAF report is finally public as it should have been from the very beginning," said European Parliament lawmaker Cornelia Ernst, who confirmed the report's authenticity.

"It proves once again black on white what we have been saying for many years: Frontex is systematically involved in human rights violations and their coverup at the EU's external borders," she said.

Frontex coordinates search and rescue and border interception operations on behalf of the 27 EU member countries.

However, the country on whose territory the operation is happening – in this case Greece – has command over what goes on.

Both Greece and Frontex have denied any wrongdoing until now but the OLAF report raises questions about whether Frontex will continue operating in Greece.

According to its own regulations, the agency's executive director should suspend or terminate its activity if they see "violations of fundamental rights or international protection obligations that are of a serious nature or are likely to persist".