EU border agency sued for concealing evidence of Libya migrant boat pullbacks

EU border agency sued for concealing evidence of Libya migrant boat pullbacks
2 min read
30 April, 2022
This week has gone from bad to worse for Frontex, after agency chief Fabrice Leggeri resigned in disgrace.
Evidence is mounting that Frontex coordinates illegal 'pullbacks' of migrants by the Libyan coastguard [Getty]

Civil rescue organisation Sea-Watch is suing the European Union border force Frontex in the EU's general court after the agency refused to release documents that shed light on its dealings and coordination on migrants with the Libyan coastguard in the central Mediterranean. 

“For years, Frontex has used secrecy to protect itself from having to face the consequences of its actions - something that is especially true when it comes to the agency’s operations and its complicity in human rights violations,” said a Sea-Watch statement about the case. 

The lawsuit revolves around an incident in which a Sea-Watch vessel documented an illegal pulling back of a boat containing 20 migrants who had left Libyan coastal waters last year. 

Frontex drones were seen circling the boat in distress three times before the Libyan coast guard appeared in international waters, and forcibly returned the migrants back to Libya.

Live Story

Evidence of such coordination could constitute a violation of the international principle of non-refoulement, which forbids the EU from returning asylum seekers to a country in which they could be in danger of persecution.

The Libyan coastguard, a key ally in Europe’s strategy to secure its southern sea border, has been accused of multiple human rights abuses.

This is not the first time the divisive border agency has been taken to court this year for such actions. 

In March, Syrian refugee Alaa Hamoudi made a claim to the European Court of Justice, alleging that his boat was pushed back by Greek border guards in complicity with Frontex - breaching international law. 

The most recent lawsuit comes at the end of a week of particularly bad news for Frontex - after Fabrice Leggeri, a figurehead for impenetrable European frontiers, resigned as head of the border agency on Friday.

Leggeri was frequently accused of tolerating illegal "pushbacks" of migrants, often in cooperation with the Libyan coastguard and across the central Mediterranean. 

On Wednesday, an investigation by French daily Le Monde and investigative outfit Lighthouse Reports found that Frontex recorded pushbacks in Greek waters between March 2020 and September 2021 as "operations to prevent departures (towards Europe), carried out in Turkish waters".