The European Parliament this week issued a damning report on the activities of Frontex, the EU’s border protection agency based in Warsaw.
The report has been five months in the making, and from the tenor of the enquiry sessions, could not have been anything but severely critical in the end.
Witness after witness described examples of human rights violations and breaches of EU and international law.
One example is the practice known as ‘pushbacks’, where border guards stop migrants at borders or on the seashore and force them to return the way they came.
Pushbacks are illegal, and in some cases could be fatal, as migrants are already risking their lives by making dangerous sea crossings in flimsy, overcrowded boats with inadequate safety equipment.
The report stresses that Frontex itself is not guilty of pushbacks, but that its officers stand by or even retreat to allow national border guards free rein, as happened in Greece, one witness described.
“The European border guards, for example, stopped refugee boats, but they then left willingly at the request of the Greek coast guard, which had rushed to the scene,” said Dutch MEP Tineke Strik (GroenLinks), who authored the parliament’s report. “Frontex consciously looked away from the pushbacks that the Greeks performed.”
The evidence against Frontex is mountainous, not only from human rights organisations and investigative journalists, but also from the EU’s Court of Auditors, which said the agency is not equipped to play a full role in illegal migration, human trafficking and cross-border organised crime.
The EU’s anti-fraud unit Olaf is looking into the agency’s internal organisation, and the role of top man Fabrice Leggeri. The director is accused of ignoring all reports of human rights violations, of throwing the agency’s involvements in pushbacks onto member states, and of failing to see through the appointment of 40 experts on human rights.
So far only 20 have been appointed, only five of whom are able to work independently.
“A huge cultural shift is needed at Frontex,” rapporteur Strik said. “This report shows that the current director is not suited to implement those changes.”