• Trigger Warnings | Centre for Teaching Excellence

      A trigger warning is a statement made prior to sharing potentially disturbing content. That content might include graphic references to topics such as #sexual_abuse, #self-harm, #violence, #eating_disorders, and so on, and can take the form of an #image, #video_clip, #audio_clip, or piece of #text. In an #academic_context, the #instructor delivers these messages in order to allow students to prepare emotionally for the content or to decide to forgo interacting with the content.

      Proponents of trigger warnings contend that certain course content can impact the #wellbeing and #academic_performance of students who have experienced corresponding #traumas in their own lives. Such students might not yet be ready to confront a personal #trauma in an academic context. They choose to #avoid it now so that they can deal with it more effectively at a later date – perhaps after they have set up necessary #resources, #supports, or #counselling. Other students might indeed be ready to #confront a personal trauma in an academic context but will benefit from a #forewarning of certain topics so that they can brace themselves prior to (for example) participating in a #classroom discussion about it. Considered from this perspective, trigger warnings give students increased #autonomy over their learning, and are an affirmation that the instructor #cares about their wellbeing.

      However, not everyone agrees that trigger warnings are #necessary or #helpful. For example, some fear that trigger warnings unnecessarily #insulate students from the often harsh #realities of the world with which academics need to engage. Others are concerned that trigger warnings establish a precedent of making instructors or universities legally #responsible for protecting students from #emotional_trauma. Still others argue that it is impossible to anticipate all the topics that might be potentially triggering for students.

      Trigger warnings do not mean that students can exempt themselves from completing parts of the coursework. Ideally, a student who is genuinely concerned about being #re-traumatized by forthcoming course content would privately inform the instructor of this concern. The instructor would then accommodate the student by proposing #alternative_content or an alternative learning activity, as with an accommodation necessitated by a learning disability or physical disability.

      The decision to preface potentially disturbing content with a trigger warning is ultimately up to the instructor. An instructor who does so might want to include in the course syllabus a preliminary statement (also known as a “#content_note”), such as the following:

      Our classroom provides an open space for the critical and civil exchange of ideas. Some readings and other content in this course will include topics that some students may find offensive and/or traumatizing. I’ll aim to #forewarn students about potentially disturbing content and I ask all students to help to create an #atmosphere of #mutual_respect and #sensitivity.

      Prior to introducing a potentially disturbing topic in class, an instructor might articulate a #verbal_trigger_warning such as the following:

      Next class our discussion will probably touch on the sexual assault that is depicted in the second last chapter of The White Hotel. This content is disturbing, so I encourage you to prepare yourself emotionally beforehand. If you believe that you will find the discussion to be traumatizing, you may choose to not participate in the discussion or to leave the classroom. You will still, however, be responsible for material that you miss, so if you leave the room for a significant time, please arrange to get notes from another student or see me individually.

      A version of the foregoing trigger warning might also preface written materials:

      The following reading includes a discussion of the harsh treatment experienced by First Nations children in residential schools in the 1950s. This content is disturbing, so I encourage everyone to prepare themselves emotionally before proceeding. If you believe that the reading will be traumatizing for you, then you may choose to forgo it. You will still, however, be responsible for material that you miss, so please arrange to get notes from another student or see me individually.

      Trigger warnings, of course, are not the only answer to disturbing content. Instructional #strategies such as the following can also help students approach challenging material:

      – Give your students as much #advance_notice as possible about potentially disturbing content. A day’s notice might not be enough for a student to prepare emotionally, but two weeks might be.

      – Try to “scaffold” a disturbing topic to students. For example, when beginning a history unit on the Holocaust, don’t start with graphic photographs from Auschwitz. Instead, begin by explaining the historical context, then verbally describe the conditions within the concentration camps, and then introduce the photographic record as needed. Whenever possible, allow students to progress through upsetting material at their own pace.

      – Allow students to interact with disturbing material outside of class. A student might feel more vulnerable watching a documentary about sexual assault while in a classroom than in the security of his or her #home.

      – Provide captions when using video materials: some content is easier to watch while reading captions than while listening to the audio.

      – When necessary, provide written descriptions of graphic images as a substitute for the actual visual content.

      – When disturbing content is under discussion, check in with your students from time to time: #ask them how they are doing, whether they need a #break, and so on. Let them know that you are aware that the material in question is emotionally challenging.

      – Advise students to be #sensitive to their classmates’ #vulnerabilities when they are preparing class presentations.

      – Help your students understand the difference between emotional trauma and #intellectual_discomfort: the former is harmful, as is triggering it in the wrong context (such as in a classroom rather than in therapy); the latter is fundamental to a university education – it means our ideas are being challenged as we struggle to resolve cognitive dissonance.

      https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/trigger

    • Why Trigger Warnings Don’t Work

      Because trauma #survivors’ #memories are so specific, increasingly used “trigger warnings” are largely #ineffective.

      Fair warning labels at the beginning of movie and book reviews alert the reader that continuing may reveal critical plot points that spoil the story. The acronym NSFW alerts those reading emails or social media posts that the material is not suitable for work. The Motion Picture Association of America provides film ratings to advise about content so that moviegoers can make informed entertainment choices for themselves and their children.

      Enter stage right: Trigger warning.

      A trigger warning, most often found on #social_media and internet sites, alerts the reader that potentially upsetting information may follow. The words trigger warning are often followed by a subtitle such as *Trigger warning: This may be triggering to those who have struggled with _________. Fill in the blank. #Domestic_abuse. #Rape. #Body_image. #Needles. #Pregnancy.

      Trigger warnings have become prevalent online since about 2012. Victim advocate Gayle Crabtree reports that they were in use as early as 1996 in chat rooms she moderated. “We used the words ‘trigger warning,’ ‘#tw,’ ‘#TW,’ and ‘trigger’ early on. …This meant the survivor could see the warning and then decide if she or he wanted to scroll down for the message or not.” Eventually, trigger warnings spread to social media sites including #Tumblr, #Twitter, and #Facebook.

      The term seems to have originated from the use of the word “trigger” to indicate something that cues a #physiological_response, the way pollen may trigger an allergy attack. A trigger in a firearm is a lever that activates the sequence of firing a gun, so it is not surprising that the word was commandeered by those working in the field of #psychology to indicate objects and sensations that cause neurological firing in the brain, which in turn cause #feelings and #thoughts to occur.

      Spoiler alerts allow us to enjoy the movie or book as it unfolds without being influenced by knowledge about what comes next. The NSFW label helps employees comply with workplace policies that prohibit viewing sexually explicit or profane material. Motion picture ratings enable viewers to select movies they are most likely to find entertaining. Trigger warnings, on the other hand, are “designed to prevent people who have an extremely strong and damaging emotional response… to certain subjects from encountering them unaware.”

      Say what?

      Say hogwash!

      Discussions about trigger warnings have made headlines in the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, and various other online and print publications. Erin Dean writes that a trigger “is not something that offends one, troubles one, or angers one; it is something that causes an extreme involuntary reaction in which the individual re-experiences past trauma.”

      For those individuals, it is probably true that coming across material that reminds them of a traumatic event is going to be disturbing. Dean’s definition refers to involuntary fear and stress responses common in individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder characterized by intrusive memories, thoughts, or dreams; intense distress at cues that remind the individual of the event; and reactivity to situations, people, or objects that symbolize the event. PTSD can result from personal victimization, accidents, incarceration, natural disasters, or any unexpected injury or threat of injury or death. Research suggests that it results from a combination of genetic predisposition, fear conditioning, and neural and physiological responses that incorporate the body systems and immunological responses. Current theories suggest that PTSD represents “the failure to recover from the normal effects of trauma.” In other words, anyone would be adversely affected by trauma, but natural mechanisms for healing take place in the majority of individuals. The prevalence of PTSD ranges from 1.9 percent in Europe to 3.5 percent in the United States.

      The notion that trigger warnings should be generalized to all social media sites, online journals, and discussion boards is erroneous.

      Some discussions have asserted that because between one in four and one in five women have been sexually abused, trigger warnings are necessary to protect vast numbers of victims from being re-traumatized. However, research shows that the majority of trauma-exposed persons do not develop PTSD. This does not mean they aren’t affected by trauma, but that they do not develop clinically significant symptoms, distress, or impairment in daily functioning. The notion that trigger warnings should be generalized to all social media sites, online journals, and discussion boards is erroneous. Now some students are pushing for trigger warnings on college class syllabi and reading lists.

      But what?

      Balderdash!

      But wait, before people get all riled up, I’d like to say that yes, I have experienced trauma in my life.

      I wore a skirt the first time George hit me. I know this because I remember scrunching my skirt around my waist and balancing in heels while I squatted over a hole in the concrete floor to take a piss. We were in Tijuana. The stench of excrement made my stomach queasy with too much tequila. I wanted to retch.

      We returned to our hotel room. I slid out of my blouse and skirt. He stripped to nothing and lay on the double bed. He was drinking Rompope from the bottle, a kind of Mexican eggnog: strong, sweet, and marketed for its excellent spunk. It’s a thick yellow rum concoction with eggs, sugar, and almond side notes. George wanted to have sex. We bickered and argued as drunks sometimes do. I said something — I know this because I always said something — and he hit me. He grabbed me by the hair and hit me again. “We’re going dancing,” he said.

      “I don’t feel like dancing — “

      “Fine. Stay.”

      The world was tilting at an angle I didn’t recognize. The mathematician Matt Tweed writes that atoms are made up of almost completely empty space. To grasp the vast nothingness, he asks the reader to imagine a cat twirling a bumblebee on the end of a half-mile long string. That’s how much emptiness there is between the nucleus and the electron. There was more space than that between George and me. I remember thinking: I am in a foreign country. I don’t speak Spanish. I have no money. We went dancing.

      Labeling a topic or theme is useless because of the way our brains work. The labels that we give trauma (assault, sexual abuse, rape) are not the primary source of triggers. Memories are, and not just memories, but very specific, insidious, and personally individualized details lodged in our brain at the time of the trauma encoded as memory. Details can include faces, places, sounds, smells, tastes, voices, body positions, time of day, or any other sensate qualities that were present during a traumatic incident.

      If I see a particular shade of yellow or smell a sickly sweet rum drink, I’m reminded of my head being yanked by someone who held a handful of my hair in his fist. A forest green Plymouth Duster (the car we drove) will too. The word assault does not. The words domestic violence don’t either. The specificity of details seared in my mind invokes memory.

      Last year a driver slammed into the back of my car on the freeway. The word tailgate is not a trigger. Nor is the word accident. The flash of another car suddenly encroaching in my rearview mirror is. In my mid-20s, I drove my younger sister (sobbing, wrapped in a bed sheet) to the hospital where two male officers explained they were going to pluck her pubic hair for a rape kit. When I see tweezers in a hospital, I flash back to that awful moment. For my sister, other things may be triggers: the moonlight shining on the edge of a knife. The shadow of a person back lit in a doorway. An Hispanic man’s accent. If we were going to insist on trigger warnings that work, they would need to look something like this:

      Trigger warning: Rompope.

      Trigger warning: a woman wrapped in a bed sheet.

      Trigger warning: the blade of a knife.

      The variability of human #perception and traumatic recall makes it impossible to provide the necessary specificity for trigger warnings to be effective. The nature of specificity is, in part, one reason that treatment for traumatic memories involves safely re-engaging with the images that populate the survivor’s memory of the event. According to Dr. Mark Beuger, an addiction psychiatrist at Deerfield Behavioral Health of Warren (PA), the goal of PTSD treatment is “to allow for processing of the traumatic experience without becoming so emotional that processing is impossible.” By creating a coherent narrative of the past event through telling and retelling the story to a clinician, survivors confront their fears and gain mastery over their thoughts and feelings.

      If a survivor has had adequate clinical support, they could engage online with thoughts or ideas that previously had been avoided.

      According to the National Center for Health, “#Avoidance is a maladaptive #control_strategy… resulting in maintenance of perceived current threat. In line with this, trauma-focused treatments stress the role of avoidance in the maintenance of PTSD. Prolonged exposure to safe but anxiety-provoking trauma-related stimuli is considered a treatment of choice for PTSD.” Avoidance involves distancing oneself from cues, reminders, or situations that remind one of the event that can result in increased #social_withdrawal. Trigger warnings increase social withdrawal, which contributes to feelings of #isolation. If a survivor who suffers from PTSD has had adequate clinical support, they could engage online with thoughts or ideas that previously had been avoided. The individual is in charge of each word he or she reads. At any time, one may close a book or click a screen shut on the computer. What is safer than that? Conversely, trigger warnings perpetuate avoidance. Because the intrusive memories and thoughts are internal, trigger warnings suggest, “Wait! Don’t go here. I need to protect you from yourself.”

      The argument that trigger warnings help to protect those who have suffered trauma is false. Most people who have experienced trauma do not require preemptive protection. Some may argue that it would be kind to avoid causing others distress with upsetting language and images. But is it? Doesn’t it sometimes take facing the horrific images encountered in trauma to effect change in ourselves and in the world?

      A few weeks ago, I came across a video about Boko Haram’s treatment of a kidnapped schoolgirl. The girl was blindfolded. A man was digging a hole in dry soil. It quickly became evident, as he ushered the girl into the hole, that this would not end well. I felt anxious as several men began shoveling soil in around her while she spoke to them in a language I could not understand. I considered clicking away as my unease and horror grew. But I also felt compelled to know what happened to this girl. In the 11-minute video, she is buried up to her neck.

      All the while, she speaks to her captors, who eventually move out of the frame of the scene. Rocks begin pelting the girl’s head. One after the other strikes her as I stared, horrified, until finally, her head lay motionless at an angle that could only imply death. That video (now confirmed to be a stoning in Somalia rather than by Boko Haram) forever changed my level of concern about young girls kidnapped in other countries.

      We are changed by what we #witness. Had the video contained a trigger warning about gruesome death, I would not have watched it. Weeks later, I would have been spared the rush of feelings I felt when a friend posted a photo of her daughter playfully buried by her brothers in the sand. I would have been spared knowing such horrors occur. But would the world be a better place for my not knowing? Knowledge helps us prioritize our responsibilities in the world. Don’t we want engaged, knowledgeable citizens striving for a better world?

      Recently, the idea of trigger warnings has leapt the gulch between social media and academic settings. #Universities are dabbling with #policies that encourage professors to provide trigger warnings for their classes because of #complaints filed by students. Isn’t the syllabus warning enough? Can’t individual students be responsible for researching the class content and reading #materials before they enroll? One of the benefits of broad exposure to literature and art in education is Theory of Mind, the idea that human beings have the capacity to recognize and understand that other people have thoughts and desires that are different from one’s own. Do we want #higher_education to comprise solely literature and ideas that feel safe to everyone? Could we even agree on what that would be?

      Art occurs at the intersection of experience and danger. It can be risky, subversive, and offensive. Literature encompasses ideas both repugnant and redemptive. News about very difficult subjects is worth sharing. As writers, don’t we want our readers to have the space to respond authentically to the story? As human beings, don’t we want others to understand that we can empathize without sharing the same points of view?

      Trigger warnings fail to warn us of the very things that might cause us to remember our trauma. They insulate. They cause isolation. A trigger warning says, “Be careful. This might be too much for you.” It says, “I don’t trust you can handle it.” As a reader, that’s not a message I want to encounter. As a writer, that is not the message I want to convey.

      Trigger warnings?

      Poppycock.

      http://www.stirjournal.com/2014/09/15/trigger-what-why-trigger-warnings-dont-work

    • Essay on why a professor is adding a trigger warning to his #syllabus

      Trigger warnings in the classroom have been the subject of tremendous #debate in recent weeks, but it’s striking how little the discussion has contemplated what actual trigger warnings in actual classrooms might plausibly look like.

      The debate began with demands for trigger warnings by student governments with no power to compel them and suggestions by #administrators (made and retracted) that #faculty consider them. From there the ball was picked up mostly by observers outside higher ed who presented various #arguments for and against, and by professors who repudiated the whole idea.

      What we haven’t heard much of so far are the voices of professors who are sympathetic to the idea of such warnings talking about what they might look like and how they might operate.

      As it turns out, I’m one of those professors, and I think that discussion is long overdue. I teach history at Hostos Community College of the City University of New York, and starting this summer I’m going to be including a trigger warning in my syllabus.

      I’d like to say a few things about why.

      An Alternative Point of View

      To start off, I think it’s important to be clear about what trigger warnings are, and what purpose they’re intended to serve. Such warnings are often framed — and not just by critics — as a “you may not want to read this” notice, one that’s directed specifically at survivors of trauma. But their actual #purpose is considerably broader.

      Part of the confusion arises from the word “trigger” itself. Originating in the psychological literature, the #term can be misleading in a #non-clinical context, and indeed many people who favor such warnings prefer to call them “#content_warnings” for that reason. It’s not just trauma survivors who may be distracted or derailed by shocking or troubling material, after all. It’s any of us, and a significant part of the distraction comes not from the material itself but from the context in which it’s presented.

      In the original cut of the 1933 version of the film “King Kong,” there was a scene (depicting an attack by a giant spider) that was so graphic that the director removed it before release. He took it out, it’s said, not because of concerns about excessive violence, but because the intensity of the scene ruined the movie — once you saw the sailors get eaten by the spider, the rest of the film passed by you in a haze.

      A similar concern provides a big part of the impetus for content warnings. These warnings prepare the reader for what’s coming, so their #attention isn’t hijacked when it arrives. Even a pleasant surprise can be #distracting, and if the surprise is unpleasant the distraction will be that much more severe.

      I write quite a bit online, and I hardly ever use content warnings myself. I respect the impulse to provide them, but in my experience a well-written title and lead paragraph can usually do the job more effectively and less obtrusively.

      A classroom environment is different, though, for a few reasons. First, it’s a shared space — for the 75 minutes of the class session and the 15 weeks of the semester, we’re pretty much all #stuck with one another, and that fact imposes #interpersonal_obligations on us that don’t exist between writer and reader. Second, it’s an interactive space — it’s a #conversation, not a monologue, and I have a #responsibility to encourage that conversation as best I can. Finally, it’s an unpredictable space — a lot of my students have never previously encountered some of the material we cover in my classes, or haven’t encountered it in the way it’s taught at the college level, and don’t have any clear sense of what to expect.

      For all these reasons, I’ve concluded that it would be sound #pedagogy for me to give my students notice about some of the #challenging_material we’ll be covering in class — material relating to racial and sexual oppression, for instance, and to ethnic and religious conflict — as well as some information about their rights and responsibilities in responding to it. Starting with the summer semester, as a result, I’ll be discussing these issues during the first class meeting and including a notice about them in the syllabus.

      My current draft of that notice reads as follows:

      Course Content Note

      At times this semester we will be discussing historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatizing, to some students. If you ever feel the need to step outside during one of these discussions, either for a short time or for the rest of the class session, you may always do so without academic penalty. (You will, however, be responsible for any material you miss. If you do leave the room for a significant time, please make arrangements to get notes from another student or see me individually.)

      If you ever wish to discuss your personal reactions to this material, either with the class or with me afterwards, I welcome such discussion as an appropriate part of our coursework.

      That’s it. That’s my content warning. That’s all it is.

      I should say as well that nothing in these two paragraphs represents a change in my teaching practice. I have always assumed that if a student steps out of the classroom they’ve got a good reason, and I don’t keep tabs on them when they do. If a student is made uncomfortable by something that happens in class, I’m always glad when they come talk to me about it — I’ve found we usually both learn something from such exchanges. And of course students are still responsible for mastering all the course material, just as they’ve always been.

      So why the note, if everything in it reflects the rules of my classroom as they’ve always existed? Because, again, it’s my job as a professor to facilitate class discussion.

      A few years ago one of my students came to talk to me after class, distraught. She was a student teacher in a New York City junior high school, working with a social studies teacher. The teacher was white, and almost all of his students were, like my student, black. That week, she said, one of the classes had arrived at the point in the semester given over to the discussion of slavery, and at the start of the class the teacher had gotten up, buried his nose in his notes, and started into the lecture without any introduction. The students were visibly upset by what they were hearing, but the teacher just kept going until the end of the period, at which point he finished the lecture, put down his papers, and sent them on to math class.

      My student was appalled. She liked these kids, and she could see that they were hurting. They were angry, they were confused, and they had been given nothing to do with their #emotions. She asked me for advice, and I had very little to offer, but I left our meeting thinking that it would have been better for the teacher to have skipped that material entirely than to have taught it the way he did.

      History is often ugly. History is often troubling. History is often heartbreaking. As a professor, I have an #obligation to my students to raise those difficult subjects, but I also have an obligation to raise them in a way that provokes a productive reckoning with the material.

      And that reckoning can only take place if my students know that I understand that this material is not merely academic, that they are coming to it as whole people with a wide range of experiences, and that the journey we’re going on #together may at times be #painful.

      It’s not coddling them to acknowledge that. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

      https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/05/29/essay-why-professor-adding-trigger-warning-his-syllabus

  • Migrations : l’agence européenne #Frontex mise en cause pour des #refoulements en mer

    Des investigations menées par plusieurs médias dénoncent les pratiques illégales des #gardes-frontières_grecs impliquant parfois l’agence européenne de surveillance des frontières.

    Une enquête de plusieurs médias, dont le magazine allemand Spiegel, affirme que Frontex, l’agence européenne de surveillance des frontières, est impliquée dans plusieurs incidents de refoulement en mer de bateaux de demandeurs d’asile traversant la mer Egée entre la Turquie et la Grèce.

    Les investigations menées « montrent pour la première fois que les responsables de Frontex sont conscients des pratiques illégales des gardes-frontières grecs – et sont en partie impliqués dans les refoulements eux-mêmes », écrit le Spiegel dans un article disponible en ligne samedi 24 octobre.
    Les journalistes assurent avoir documenté six cas survenus depuis avril en mer Egée dans lesquels des équipes de Frontex ont au minimum assisté sans réagir à des refoulements vers la Turquie de bateaux de réfugiés se trouvant dans les eaux grecques, une pratique illégale. Dans un cas, en juin, une vidéo montre un navire de Frontex bloquant un bateau de réfugiés, puis, dans une autre scène enregistrée, passant devant le bateau de réfugiés à grande vitesse avant de quitter les lieux.

    Des dizaines de vidéos, d’images satellites, de récits comparés

    Outre le Spiegel, les recherches ont été menées par un magazine de la chaîne allemande ARD, le collectif de journalistes Lighthouse Reports, la plate-forme d’investigations Bellingcat et la chaîne de télévision japonaise TV Asahi. Les auteurs expliquent avoir comparé des « dizaines » de vidéos, d’images satellites, de récits de témoins oculaires, dont des réfugiés et des employés de Frontex. L’agence européenne de surveillance des frontières a engagé plus de 600 agents en Grèce, une des portes d’entrée de l’Union européenne, ainsi que des bateaux, des drones et des avions, selon l’article.

    Frontex n’a pas commenté les cas précis soulevés par la recherche, explique le Spiegel, mais a déclaré que ses agents étaient liés par un code de conduite en matière de droits de l’homme et respectaient l’interdiction des refoulements. Sans mentionner l’article, Frontex a annoncé vendredi soir sur son compte Twitter avoir été « en contact avec les autorités grecques à propos d’incidents en mer ces derniers mois » et qu’Athènes avait ouvert une « enquête interne ». Frontex agit « dans le respect des droits fondamentaux et de la loi internationale », souligne l’agence sur Twitter.
    Le gouvernement conservateur grec a toujours rejeté les allégations de refoulements illégaux à ses frontières dont font régulièrement état plusieurs organisations non gouvernementales.

    https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2020/10/24/migrations-l-agence-europeenne-frontex-mise-en-cause-pour-des-refoulements-e
    #asile #migrations #réfugiés #frontières #push-backs #refoulements #Mer_Egée #Grèce #Turquie

    ping @isskein @karine4

    • Frontex at Fault : European Border Force Complicit in ‘Illegal’ Pushbacks

      Vessels from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, have been complicit in maritime “pushback” operations to drive away refugees and migrants attempting to enter the European Union via Greek waters, a joint investigation by Bellingcat, Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, ARD and TV Asahi has found.

      Open source data suggests Frontex assets were actively involved in one pushback incident at the Greek-Turkish maritime border in the Aegean Sea, were present at another and have been in the vicinity of four more since March.

      Although Frontex assets were not at the immediate scene of those latter four incidents, the signature of a pushback is distinctive, and would likely have been visible on radar, with visual tools common on such vessels or to the naked eye.

      The Greek Coast Guard (HCG) has long been accused of illegal pushbacks.

      These are described by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a legal and educational non-profit, as incidents where refugees and migrants are forced back over a border without consideration of individual circumstances and without any possibility to apply for asylum or to put forward arguments against the measures taken.

      In the Aegean Sea, pushbacks generally occur in two ways. The first type is the most common: Dinghies travelling from Turkey to Greece are blocked from landing on Greek soil by the HCG. This could mean either physically blocking the dinghy until it runs out of fuel, or disabling the engine. After the engine no longer works the dinghy can then either be pushed back into Turkish territorial water with waves, or towed if the wind is not favourable.

      The second type of pushback is employed when people have managed to land on Greek soil. In this case they are detained, placed in a liferaft with no means of propulsion, towed into the middle of the Aegean Sea and then abandoned.

      Pushbacks will often result in standoffs between the HCG and Turkish Coast Guard (TCG), both of which will standby, refusing to aid dinghies in distress and carrying out unsafe manoeuvres around them.

      The role of Frontex assets in such incidents, however, has never been recorded before.

      Dana Schmalz, an international law expert at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg said the incidents highlighted in this investigation were likely “illegal” and “violate the prohibition of refoulement and maritime law.” The prohibition of refoulement refers to rules banning the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers and is described by the UN Refugee Agency as a “rule of customary international law.”

      Schmalz added that if Frontex personnel stopped an overcrowded dinghy of the type seen in footage documented during this investigation, they would be obliged to rescue its occupants immediately. “If they don’t do that, even make waves [or] instead drive away and then let the Greeks do the dirty work – then they are involved in the illegal pushback.”

      Despite being presented with numerous examples of the practice, a spokesperson for the Greek Maritime Ministry Greek denied claims of pushbacks, describing allegations of illegal actions relating to the incidents documented in this article as “tendentious.” They added that HCG officers act in compliance with the country’s international obligations.

      Frontex said that the host states it works with have the final say in how operations on its territory or search and rescue zone are carried out. However, it added that Frontex had notified HCG which confirmed an internal inquiry had been launched into each of the reported incidents. Yet Frontex did not say when it notified HCG or when the inquiry had begun.

      On July 24, the director of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, told the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) at the European Parliament that the agency had observed and recorded just a single incident which may have been a pushback in the Aegean.

      Our investigation — which looked at the presence of Frontex assets in the Aegean Sea and observed their movements over many months — appears to contradict that assertion.

      This was despite the difficulty in tracking many Frontex assets because their transponder information was either not registered, not turned on, or was out of range. As such, we were only able to view a snapshot of Frontex operations.

      Frontex, an agency of the European Union, is tasked with border control of the Schengen Area. Its activities in the Aegean are called Operation Poseidon.
      How we Recorded Pushbacks: Identification of Assets

      There were two main steps to establishing that Frontex had participated in pushback operations. The first was to identify what assets had been deployed in Operation Poseidon. The second was to establish whether these assets had participated in pushback operations.

      The first step was carried out using open sources. These included social media posts, vessel tracking sites and information published by Frontex itself. We were also able to establish the number of personnel and assets present in the operational area thanks to questions asked in the European Parliament.

      According to this response, Operation Poseidon has 185 personnel, one offshore patrol vessel (OPV), eight coastal patrol boats (CPB), one coastal patrol vessel (CPV), four thermal vision vehicles (TVV) and three patrol cars.

      There is also a “Rapid Border Intervention”, which contains additional assets on top of those dedicated to Operation Poseidon. This includes 74 personnel, two CPBs, two CPVs, one helicopter and three TVVs.

      In total we used open sources to identify 22 assets, including vessels, helicopters and planes, which operated in the Aegean during 2020. Although this is more than the total given in the answer to parliamentary questions above, some of these assets were rotating in or out of theater.
      Tracking Assets

      Some assets featured regularly on the open source record. For example, Romanian and Bulgarian vessels regularly transit through the Bosphorus strait, where there is an active ship-spotting community. As such it was possible to identify their operational rotations, including vessels heading to and returning from deployments roughly every three months. However, other assets were more difficult to track, and their presence on the open source record consisted of a single image or video.


      https://twitter.com/YorukIsik/status/1262417193083510784

      In order to track these assets and identify if they had participated in pushbacks, we required far more data than was available on social media. As such, we turned to AIS and transponder data, publicly available information about the location of particular ships or aircraft, available through sites such as Marine Traffic or Flight Radar 24.

      Many of the assets we identified either did not have their information publicly listed, or appeared to only turn on their transponders under certain circumstances, such as when in port. This made them extremely difficult to track. However, some assets did have their transponders on. We began to collect this data, buying additional, more granular data from ship and flight tracking companies on dates when pushbacks had been reported.

      We combined this tracking data with our own database of reported pushbacks, which we obtained through both public reports and information collected by NGOs such as Consolidated Rescue Group (CRG), Monitoring Rescue Cell (MRC) and Alarm Phone, who track these events. These included the coordinates of reported pushback events, frequently sent by the occupants of the dinghies. By overlaying these datasets we identified multiple pushback incidents in which Frontex assets were in the vicinity. Once we had identified these priority incidents we could then examine the specifics of what had happened.
      Incidents

      Using this data we identified six pushback incidents since March in which Frontex assets were either in the vicinity or participated directly. We have separated these into four “proximity incidents,” where Frontex assets were within five kilometers of the incident, and two “confirmed incidents,” where we can be certain that Frontex were present at the site of pushbacks themselves.
      Proximity Incidents

      April 28-29: In an incident we have previously reported, a group of refugees and migrants made landfall on Samos. They claim they were then detained, placed in a life-raft without any means of propulsion and towed into the middle of the Mycale Strait. A surveillance plane overflew the area twice while this pushback took place.

      June 4: Two dinghies were reported to have been pushed back from Northern Lesbos. Portuguese vessel Nortada appears to have been present around 15 kilometers from the first incident and just over one kilometer away from the second.

      June 5: A dinghy was reported to have been pushed back from Northern Lesbos. Portuguese vessel Nortada was approximately two to three kilometers away.

      August 19: A dinghy was reported to have been pushed back from Northern Lesbos. Portuguese vessel Molivos was five kilometers away and appears to have changed course and headed towards the pushback before its transponder either lost signal or was turned off.

      In these cases, Frontex assets were recorded as being within a certain range, rather than participating directly. Their exact knowledge of what was happening at these distances is difficult to confirm. Operation Poseidon’s mission includes a significant number of tasks requiring surveillance, and its assets are able to use both radar and visual tools, such as low-light or infrared cameras, to observe the environment around them.

      For example, we know that the Molivos is equipped with an FLIR camera similar to this one seen on another Portuguese Frontex vessel. This model is capable of x36 magnification, with low light and infrared cameras.

      The boats that migrants use to make this crossing are very basic, inflatable rubber dinghies several meters long with a single outboard motor. Due to their construction, it is unlikely that these boats would be visible on radar. However, pushbacks don’t just involve a single dinghy. By their definition they must involve at least one other vessel. From images and videos of pushbacks we have reviewed, it is clear that they often involve multiple ships from both the Greek and Turkish coast guards.

      As stated above, ships from both Greece and Turkey will frequently attempt to push the dinghies across the sea border using waves. These vessels manoeuvre in a circular pattern at a relatively high speed close to the dinghy. This manoeuvre is not only dangerous because of the risk of collision, the waves it generates also represent a threat to the overcrowded and often fragile dinghies.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8BdEHtBWp4&feature=emb_logo

      As such, although a dinghy itself may not show up on radar, the signature of a pushback would. Multiple large and small vessels from both TCG and HCG, some of which are carrying out unusual manoeuvres in order to create waves, would be very difficult to miss. Indeed you can even see this kind of event from space.

      There’s also the matter of visual range. The same factors that make a pushback visible on radar will also make it visible to the eye or other visual systems such as surveillance cameras. Even at a range of a few kilometers in calm seas and good conditions, a dinghy would likely be visible, although exact details such as the nature of its passengers might not be. The other aspects of pushbacks which we have already described would also certainly be visible.

      The case of the April 28-29 pushback is a good illustration of surveillance assets passing very close to the results of a pushback.
      April 28

      In an incident previously covered by Bellingcat, a group of 22 migrants who landed on Samos were detained by Greek law enforcement. They were then placed on a life raft without any means of propulsion, and towed into the middle of the Mycale Strait by the Greek coast guard. In response to our request for comment at the time, the Greek government denied these people had ever reached Greek territory, despite witness statements, images, and videos showing this had in fact happened.

      As the life raft was floating in the strait, a private sureveillance plane passed over the area twice at 5,000 feet, once at 02:41 AM and once at 03:18 AM. This plane, G-WKTH, belongs to DEA Aviation, which provides aerial surveillance services to Frontex. In a promotional video from Frontex, it is claimed these feeds are live-streamed back to the Frontex HQ in Warsaw

      The plane is reportedly equipped with an MX-15 camera, which has both low-light and infrared sensors. Considering this plane is specifically employed for aerial surveillance, it would be surprising if it did not identify the life raft full of people and, according to one member of this group, the presence of Greek and later Turkish vessels.

      Indeed, the Frontex executive director’s response to the LIBE committee of the European Parliament indicates this may have been the incident Frontex reported as having seen. In this reply a “Serious Incident Report (‘SIR’) was created based on a sighting of an incident by aerial surveillance where people were transferred on a rubber boat from a vessel and later on rescued by Turkish authorities.
      Active incidents

      In two cases on June 8 and August 15, it seems certain that Frontex was aware of pushbacks as they took place. Indeed, on June 8, it appears that a Frontex vessel participated in a pushback, physically blocking a dinghy from reaching Greek territory.

      We will first address the incident on August 15, where a Frontext vessel was present at the scene of a pushback, before examining the June 8, where a Frontex asset appears to have participated in a pushback.
      August 15

      On the morning of August 15 there were reports of a confrontation between the Greek and Turkish coast guards. As well as multiple photos posted to social media by locals, this was also reported as a pushback by CRG, MRC, Alarm Phone and Aegean Boat Report.

      CRG and MRC also posted videos from people on this dinghy, with CRG’s video showing an engine without a starter cord, claiming it had been taken by the Greek Coast Guard. In the videos, the dinghy is surrounded by vessels from both the Greek and Turkish coast guards. We have previously noted that disabling the motor of dinghies is a tactic that has reportedly been used by the Greek Coast Guard.

      Most of the images of this incident are taken from a distance, making identification of the vessels difficult. However, we were also sent an image of this confrontation that is very clear. In this image we can clearly see the presence of MAI1102, a Romanian border forces vessel which had just arrived in theater.

      The metadata of this image is consistent with the date and time of this incident. Indeed, the ships can be seen arrayed in almost exactly the same manner in a video filmed by the people on the boat.

      Although it is not possible to be certain of exactly how far away MAI1102 is from this pushback, we can see that it is certainly within visual range of the confrontation and the dinghy itself.
      June 8

      On the morning of June 8 a pushback was reported to have taken place, again off the north-east coast of Lesbos. The Turkish coast guard reported it rescued 47 migrants after a pushback by the Greek Coast Guard that day. Footage published by Anadolu Agency appeared to show the Romanian Frontex vessel MAI1103 blocking a dinghy.

      We investigated this incident further, obtaining other videos from the TCG, as well as tracking data of vessels that appeared to be in the vicinity at the time, such as the NATO ship, Berlin. Using these sources we were able to reconstruct what happened.

      After initially trying to cross under the cover of darkness, the dinghy was intercepted and physically blocked from proceeding by MAI1103 early in the morning.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoNJXY3pa_U&feature=emb_logo

      We can see the exact time and a set of coordinates in one of the videos we obtained.

      We plotted the coordinates visible on the screen as they changed. It became clear these were not the location of the vessel with the camera, but rather the location of the dinghy and MAI1103.

      We can visually confirm the general location by comparing a panoramic view that is visible in one of the videos against the appearance of the landscape from the coordinates which appear on the camera feed.

      We can now start to build a picture of what happened that morning.

      We can see that the dinghy was extremely close to MAI1103, and is being physically blocked by the ship. Indeed the two vessels are close enough that it appears that personnel on MAI1103 are communicating with people in the dinghy.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qD_I--2LPA&feature=emb_logo

      At one point MAI1103 makes a pass close to the dinghy at enough speed to generate waves, a maneuver that previously only HCG and TCG have been seen making. It is especially dangerous due to the overloaded and unseaworthy nature of the dinghies.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iUm1_e2R6A&feature=emb_logo

      Eventually HCG vessels arrive and MAI1103 leaves, resulting in a standoff between the TCG and HCG. This lasted several hours and gradually moved to the north-west, observed by the NATO ship Berlin.

      During this period the dinghy was approached at least twice by a rigid-hulled inflatable boat 060 (RHIB) from the HCG.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WODSvxnmoc&feature=emb_logo

      In what appears to be the final segment of video taken at about 09:30 AM we see the TCG radar screen, which can be exactly matched with the Turkish coast. This radar screen matches perfectly with the location and heading of the Berlin at this time, as we can see by overlaying a plot of the Berlin’s course with the radar screen.

      As well as matching the movement of vessels to AIS data, we can further verify that these videos are from the same incident by examining the passengers in the dinghy. We can see that in the earliest videos, showing the MAI1103 with the dinghy, there is clearly a person wearing a white hood, alongside someone who appears to be wearing a reddish top. The presence of these passengers helps to verify that all these videos are indeed from the same incident on June 8.

      In the final stage of the pushback at 10:30 AM it is possible to see the Portuguese Frontex vessel Nortada within 5 km with both AIS data and on the TCG radar screen. The Nortada had been in that vicinity since at least 09:11 AM that morning. Although it may not have been able to pick up this dinghy on its radar, it would have certainly been within visual range of the larger ships surrounding it. After the pushback, the Nortada continued its patrol off North Lesbos.

      Conclusion

      Over the course of this investigation we collected a huge amount of information on Frontex activities in the Aegean Sea. Most of Frontex’s assets were impossible to track because their transponder information was either not registered, not turned on, or was out of range. As such, we were only able to view a snapshot of Frontex operations.

      Despite this limited view, we still managed to identify multiple instances in which Frontex was either present at pushbacks, or close enough to be able to understand what was taking place. In at least one incident it appears that a Frontex vessel actively participated in a pushback. It is possible that there are other incidents we have not been able to capture.

      In a statement provided in response to this investigation, Frontex stated that it applies “the highest standards of border control to its operations” and that its officers are bound by a code of conduct that looks to prevent refoulement and to uphold human rights.

      The statement continued that Frontex’s executive director had notified the HGC regarding all reported incidents and that Greek authorities confirmed that an internal inquiry had been launched.

      A spokesperson for the Greek Maritime Ministry said the actions of HCG officers were “carried out in full compliance with the country’s international obligations, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue.”

      The spokesperson added that thousands of migrants had been rescued throughout the refugee crisis of recent years by the HCG, that allegations of illegality were “tendentious” and that the “operation practices of the Greek authorities have never included such [illegal] actions.”

      https://www.bellingcat.com/news/2020/10/23/frontex-at-fault-european-border-force-complicit-in-illegal-pushbacks

      #forensic_architecture #architecture_forensique

    • EU Border Agency Frontex Complicit in Greek Refugee Pushback Campaign

      Greek border guards have been forcing large numbers of refugees back to sea in pushback operations that violate international law. #DER_SPIEGEL and its reporting partners have learned that the European Union is also complicit in the highly controversial practice.

      Jouma al-Badi thought he was safe when he first set foot on European soil on April 28. Together with 21 other refugees, he had been taken in a rubber dinghy from Turkey to the Greek island of Samos. The young Syrian planned to apply for political asylum. He documented his arrival in videos. Local residents also remember the refugees.

      Greek security forces captured the migrants. Under international law, it is their duty to give the new arrivals a hearing and field their applications for asylum. Instead, according to al-Badi, the officers dragged them back out to sea and released them on an inflatable rubber raft. Videos obtained by DER SPIEGEL also show him on the raft.

      For an entire night and a morning, Greek border guards kept pushing the men and women away as their raft floated around in circles. The Turkish coast guard filmed the maneuver.

      An aircraft used by the European border protection agency Frontex also passed over the refugees. The crew of the surveillance plane, with the registration identifier "G-WKTH,” were part of a European Union operation in Greece. The plane twice flew over the Strait of Mykali, where al-Badi and the other migrants were located. According to flight data that has been viewed by DER SPIEGEL, the first flight happened at 2:41 a.m. and the second at 3:18 a.m.

      The plane’s crew has a standard MX-15 camera on board with an infrared sensor and a sensor for poor lighting conditions. Even at night, the sensors are capable of detecting small objects on the water. According to a Frontex promotional video, the camera images are streamed live to Frontex headquarters in Warsaw, Poland. But Frontex didn’t send any help.

      The waves struck the Syrian in the face. He eventually ran out of strength and thought he was going to die.

      The Greek government denies it conducted pushbacks of refugees to Turkey, even though DER SPIEGEL and other media have fully documented several of these operations, known as pushbacks. Greek border guards are growing increasingly ruthless. As in the case of al-Badi, they are now pushing even refugees who have reached the Greek isles back to sea in operations that are illegal under international law.

      Frontex officials have publicly claimed that they know nothing about pushbacks by Greek border guards. The agency has 600 employees deployed in Greece as well as ships, drones and aircraft.

      Together with Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat, "Report Mainz” — a program on ARD, the German public broadcaster — and Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi, DER SPIEGEL spent several months reporting in the Aegean Sea region. The reporters tracked the positions of Frontex units and compared them with position data from pushbacks recorded by NGOs and migrants. They interviewed witnesses, refugees and Frontex staff. They viewed internal documents and dozens of videos and satellite photos.

      Their research proves for the first time that Frontex officials know about the Greek border guards’ illegal practices – and that the agency itself is at times involved in the pushbacks. Breaking the law has become an everyday occurrence at Europe’s borders, and the EU is allowing it to happen.

      Samira Mohammad could already see Lesbos when the men with the masks arrived. The Syrian woman, who does not want to provide her real name, is 45 years old. That morning of August 15, she was sitting in a rubber dinghy with dozens of other people. She recalls how Greek border guards tried in vain to stop the arrivals and how they steered toward the boat repeatedly and pushed it back toward Turkey multiple times. She says the Turkish coast guard held them off. Locals even have a name for the cynical game: "Greek water polo.”

      Mohammad claims the Greek officials took their gasoline and destroyed the engine. And that masked Greek border guards then boarded the dinghy. Several refugees claim that they forced the migrants to tie the shaky rubber dinghy to a speedboat at gunpoint. The border guards then towed the boat toward Turkey. Videos corroborate the statements made by the refugees, and the destroyed engine is clearly visible.

      Mohammad said she was scared to death during those moments. Her entire family had been onboard, including her pregnant daughter-in-law, who was later hospitalized with severe bleeding.

      The maneuver off the coast of Lesbos lasted hours, and the Turkish Navy didn’t rescue the refugees until noon.

      A Romanian Frontex boat was also on site that morning. The MAI 1102 was located only a few hundred meters away from the refugee boat. The boat can be clearly identified in a photo. A German navy ship on a NATO mission that observed the incident reported it to the German government. It also stated that Frontex people had been present. This is documented in an internal paper that has been obtained by DER SPIEGEL. Nevertheless, this pushback has never been revealed publicly before now.

      On June 8, Frontex officials went one step further, with the MAI 1103, a ship also flying the Romanian flag. It directly blocked a refugee boat. The incident can be seen in several videos recorded by the Turkish coast guard and verified by DER SPIEGEL. It shows officials standing on the deck, where they are obviously communicating with the refugees floating in the water in front of them.

      Later, the MAI 1103 passes the refugees traveling at high speed, with waves beating against the boat. The Romanian officials then withdrew and the Greek coast guard took over the operation.

      "These pushbacks violate the ban on collective expulsions and international maritime law,” says Dana Schmalz, an expert on international law at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg. She notes that if Frontex officials stopped a completely overcrowded inflatable boat, they would be required to rescue the people immediately. "If they don’t do that and even make waves instead, only to drive away and let the Greeks do the dirty work, then they are still involved in the illegal pushback,” she says.

      Reporting by DER SPIEGEL and its partners found that a Frontex surveillance plane or Portuguese or Romanian Frontex ships were near at least six pushbacks in the area since April. The number of undetected cases could actually be much higher.

      The vast majority of Frontex vessels patrol the Aegean Sea with their AIS transponders switched off or untraceable in order to prevent giving away their positions. Their presence can only be verified with difficulty through videos and photos.

      When contacted for comment by DER SPIEGEL, Frontex did not deny the individual incidents, instead stating that the officials protected the fundamental rights of migrants and respected their right to non-refoulement. It further stated that the incidents that had been reported were forwarded to the Greek coast guard, which opened an investigation into the matter. The Greek government gave a blanket denial to the allegations, saying that it complies with the law and does not carry out illegal deportations.

      Under Frontex’s statutes, police officers are required to file so-called Serious Incident Reports to document violations of the law. But people familiar with the situation say that fewer and fewer of these reports are getting filed. The sources said the Frontex border guards, who are sent to Greece from all over Europe, frown upon such reports because they cause trouble for the host country.

      https://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/eu-border-agency-frontex-complicit-in-greek-refugee-pushback-campaign-a-4b6c

      –---

      en allemand :
      https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/fluechtlinge-frontex-in-griechenland-in-illegale-pushbacks-verwickelt-a-0000

    • Bruxelles veut des explications de Frontex, accusée de procéder à des refoulements illégaux de migrants

      La #Commission_européenne a sollicité une réunion extraordinaire urgente du conseil d’administration de Frontex, l’agence européenne pour la protection des frontières, mise en cause pour des refoulements illégaux de migrants en mer Égée. Un article d’Euroefe.

      « Après s’être coordonnés avec la présidente de la Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, mes services ont demandé, au nom de la Commission, la convocation d’une réunion extraordinaire du conseil d’administration de Frontex le 10 novembre pour discuter des incidents présumés de refoulement en Grèce et de la protection des droits fondamentaux », a écrit Ylva Johansson, la commissaire chargée des migrations, dans un tweet.

      D’après des enquêtes menées par différents médias, Frontex aurait procédé à des refoulements illégaux de migrants en mer Égée, à la frontière entre la Turquie et la Grèce. Et ce à au moins six reprises.

      L’hebdomadaire allemand Der Spiegel a révélé le 23 octobre qu’il avait enquêté sur ces incidents en collaboration avec les médias numériques néerlandais Lighthouse Reports et britannique Bellingcat, ainsi qu’avec deux chaînes de télévision, l’Allemande ARD et la Japonaise Asahi.

      Ces médias disposent de films montrant comment, depuis le mois d’avril, des agents de Frontex ont procédé à ce que l’on appelle des « pushbacks » (refoulements) de migrants pour les empêcher d’atteindre le sol européen, une pratique illégale.

      Une vidéo montre comment un bateau de l’agence européenne bloque le passage d’une embarcation occupée par des migrants, avant de les dépasser à grande vitesse, provoquant ainsi de grosses vagues. Par la suite, les garde-côtes grecs obligent la barque à faire demi-tour vers la Turquie.

      De son côté, Frontex a nié les accusations et assuré au Spiegel que ses agents protégeaient les droits fondamentaux des migrants et respectaient le droit au non-refoulement.

      Le gouvernement grec a également nié catégoriquement ces accusations.

      https://www.euractiv.fr/section/migrations/news/bruxelles-veut-des-explications-de-frontex-accusee-de-proceder-a-des-refoulements-illegaux-de-migrants/?_ga=2.223583131.1633915392.1603989521-379746837.1590938192

    • Greek coast guard performed huge pushback involving 197 people and 7 life rafts!

      A boat carrying 197 people tried to cross from Turkey to Italy on Tuesday, but got in to bad weather and sat course towards Crete. Close to the south shore of Crete they had engine problems and the Greek Coast Guard was alerted 09.00.
      The coast guard divided the people on two coast guard vessels, 121 men and boys on one vessel and 76 people, families on the other. Reports from the refugees clearly states that some of them where abuse while onboard the HCG vessel, footage and video testimony has been provided. Most of their phones was confiscated by the Greek coast guard, but a few managed to hide their phones, and was able to send out distress messages.
      The first group containing the 121 males was forced in to 3 life rafts before first light on Wednesday the 21th just north of Rhodes, and found and picked up by Turkish coast guard 08.50 south of Marmaris.
      The second group with the families, 76 people, was put in 4 life rafts around noon north west of Simi, drifting for hours and not picked up by Turkish coast guard before 17.30 south west of Datça.
      This shows that the Greek coast guard is determined to prevent anyone to reach Greek soil, no matter the consequences or potential harm they may inflict on innocent people fleeing war and persecution.
      This is by far the largest pushback Aegean Boat Report has been able to document, but I guess nothing is a surprise anymore. No measures have been taken by the EU to try to stop this illegal practice by the Greek government, even do they have received overwhelming amounts of evidence.

      https://www.facebook.com/AegeanBoatReport/posts/951612422028529

    • Έστειλαν πίσω 200 πρόσφυγες γιατί ήταν… τζιχαντιστές

      Τεκμηριωμένη καταγγελία για τη μεγαλύτερη ώς τώρα καταγεγραμμένη επαναπροώθηση προσφύγων από το Λιμενικό προς την Τουρκία με μεγάλη και κρυφή επιχείρηση του Λιμενικού εν μέσω σφοδρής κακοκαιρίας νότια της Κρήτης ● Έντεχνη προσπάθεια οι 200 άνθρωποι, μεταξύ αυτών και γυναικόπαιδα, να εμφανιστούν ως… ισλαμιστές τρομοκράτες.

      Ακόμα μια καταγγελία για βίαιες επαναπροωθήσεις προσφύγων από το Λιμενικό έρχεται στο φως τις τελευταίες ημέρες, την ίδια στιγμή που η κυβέρνηση πανηγυρίζει για τη μείωση των προσφυγικών ροών προς τα νησιά, χωρίς όμως να εξηγεί πώς έχει επιτευχθεί η μείωση αυτή.

      Η υπόθεση αφορά πλοιάριο με περίπου 200 ανθρώπους που έφτασαν στα ανοιχτά της Κρήτης, προερχόμενοι από Τουρκία και με τελικό προορισμό την Ιταλία. Στη συγκεκριμένη περίπτωση υπάρχει μια περίεργη αλληλουχία γεγονότων και « ειδήσεων » τόσο στα κρητικά όσο και τα κεντρικά ΜΜΕ. Το πρωί της Τρίτης 20 Οκτωβρίου σε όλα τα ηλεκτρονικά ΜΜΕ της Κρήτης μεταδίδεται η είδηση για « κινητοποίηση του Λιμενικού » για σκάφος με 200 μετανάστες στη θαλάσσια περιοχή νότια της νήσου Χρυσής (Γαϊδουρονήσι), στην Ιεράπετρα. Το προηγούμενο βράδυ η Κρήτη είχε χτυπηθεί σφοδρά από την κακοκαιρία και το πρωί τα βλέμματα όλων ήταν στις εκτεταμένες καταστροφές που προκάλεσε το χαλάζι σε καλλιέργειες και υποδομές, κυρίως στην ανατολική πλευρά του νησιού. Την ίδια κακοκαιρία προφανώς αντιμετώπισαν και οι 200 επιβαίνοντες στο σκάφος, μεταξύ των οποίων υπήρχαν γυναίκες και παιδιά.

      Στις πρώτες αναφορές και σε ερωτήσεις δημοσιογράφων προς το Λιμεναρχείο Ιεράπετρας γινόταν λόγος για « αδυναμία του Λιμενικού να εντοπίσει το πλοιάριο », ωστόσο δινόταν η πληροφορία πως τα σκάφη θα έμεναν στα ανοιχτά λόγω της κακοκαιρίας και για την περίπτωση που χρειαστεί, να παράσχουν βοήθεια αν εντοπίσουν τους πρόσφυγες. Λίγες ώρες αργότερα η είδηση εξαφανίστηκε από τα ΜΜΕ και δημιουργήθηκε η εντύπωση πως τα σκάφη του Λιμενικού δεν βρήκαν ποτέ το πλοιάριο με τους πρόσφυγες.
      Τους βρήκαν ;

      Ωστόσο τα πράγματα φαίνεται πως έγιναν διαφορετικά. Τέσσερις μέρες μετά, η οργάνωση Aegean Boat Report, η οποία και στο παρελθόν έχει αποκαλύψει παράνομες επιχειρήσεις επαναπροώθησης λέμβων με μετανάστες προς την Τουρκία από τις ελληνικές αρχές και τη Frontex, καταγγέλλει πως το Λιμενικό όχι μόνο βρήκε τους πρόσφυγες στα ανοιχτά της Κρήτης αλλά προχώρησε και με συνοπτικές διαδικασίες στην επαναπροώθησή τους στην Τουρκία. Η οργάνωση καταγγέλλει πως η ελληνική Ακτοφυλακή εντόπισε τους πρόσφυγες στις 9 το πρωί της Τρίτης (όπως δηλαδή μετέδιδαν αρχικά και τα κρητικά ΜΜΕ). Στη συνέχεια, πάντα σύμφωνα με την καταγγελία, οι άνδρες του Λιμενικού επιβίβασαν τους 197 πρόσφυγες σε δύο επιχειρησιακά σκάφη χωρίζοντάς τους σε δύο ομάδες. Στην πρώτη ομάδα μπήκαν 121 άνδρες και αγόρια, ενώ στη δεύτερη μπήκαν οικογένειες με γυναίκες και παιδιά, συνολικά 76 άτομα. Και οι δύο ομάδες, πάντα σύμφωνα με την καταγγελία, μεταφέρθηκαν στη θαλάσσια περιοχή βόρεια της Ρόδου, όπου και εξαναγκάστηκαν με τη βία να επιβιβαστούν σε συνολικά επτά θαλάσσιες σωστικές σχεδίες αφού προηγουμένως τους είχαν αφαιρεθεί όλα τα κινητά τηλέφωνα. Και οι επτά σχεδίες « σπρώχτηκαν » προς τις ακτές της Τουρκίας, εν μέσω κακοκαιρίας και κατά παράβαση των ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων και του δίκαιου της θάλασσας.

      Στιγμιότυπα από την επαναπροώθηση των προσφύγων (Φωτογραφίες από την οργάνωση Aegean Boat Report).


      Οι τρεις πρώτες σχεδίες, με 121 άτομα, εξωθήθηκαν τα ξημερώματα της Τετάρτης 21/10 προς την περιοχή της Μαρμαρίδας, όπου και εντοπίστηκαν από το τουρκικό Λιμενικό που τους περισυνέλεξε. Το δεύτερο γκρουπ, όπου βρίσκονταν οι γυναίκες και τα παιδιά, εξαναγκάστηκε να επιβιβαστεί σε τέσσερις σωστικές σχεδίες και επαναπροωθήθηκε προς την Τουρκία από τη θαλάσσια περιοχή δυτικά της Σύμης, το μεσημέρι της Τετάρτης. Τους περισυνέλεξε το τουρκικό Λιμενικό το απόγευμα της ίδιας μέρας στην περιοχή νοτιοδυτικά της πόλης Ντάκτα. Οπως αναφέρουν μάλιστα κάποιοι από τους επιβαίνοντες, χτυπήθηκαν από τους Ελληνες λιμενικούς, ενώ υπάρχει και σχετικό φωτογραφικό υλικό που τραβήχτηκε μετά την περισυλλογή τους από τις τουρκικές αρχές. Σε μία από τις φωτογραφίες φαίνεται ένας άνθρωπος με μώλωπες στην κοιλιά και με γύψο σε σημεία και των δύο χεριών του.


      Πρωτοσέλιδο

      Την ίδια μέρα, πάντως, που έγινε η καταγγελία από την Aegean Boat Report (το Σάββατο) η εφημερίδα « ΤΑ ΝΕΑ » κυκλοφορούσε με τίτλο « Προετοιμαστείτε για Τζιχαντιστές », αναφερόμενη στο μήνυμα που, σύμφωνα με πληροφορίες της εφημερίδας, έστειλε σε Ελλάδα και Κύπρο ο Αιγύπτιος πρόεδρος Αλ Σίσι κατά την τριμερή συνάντηση που πραγματοποιήθηκε στη Λευκωσία. Το μήνυμα υποτίθεται πως αφορούσε τις πληροφορίες που έχει η Αίγυπτος για τις κινήσεις του Ερντογάν και το πώς χρησιμοποιεί τον ισλαμιστικό παράγοντα. Σε κάποια κρητικά ΜΜΕ οι δύο υποθέσεις δεν άργησαν να συνδεθούν με αναφορές για το… περίεργο σκάφος στο οποίο, σύμφωνα με τα δημοσιεύματα, επέβαιναν « άτομα εμφανιζόμενα ως μετανάστες » και το οποίο, σύμφωνα με τις διοχετευμένες πληροφορίες, έχει κινητοποιήσει όχι μόνο το Λιμενικό αλλά και τον Στρατό, την ΕΥΠ ακόμα και ξένες μυστικές υπηρεσίες !

      Όπως αποκαλύπτεται, πάντως, οι επικίνδυνοι « τζιχαντιστές », τόσο οι άνδρες όσο και τα γυναικόπαιδα, είχαν ήδη από την Τετάρτη επαναπροωθηθεί παράνομα στην Τουρκία. Η Οργάνωση Aegean Boat Report αναφέρει πως αυτή είναι η μεγαλύτερη περίπτωση « pushback » που καταφέρνει να καταγράψει και τονίζει πως η Ευρωπαϊκή Ενωση δεν έχει επιβάλει ακόμα καμία κύρωση στην Ελλάδα για τις παράνομες επαναπροωθήσεις, παρά τα ακλόνητα στοιχεία που έχουν τεθεί στη διάθεση των ευρωπαϊκών αρχών.

      https://www.efsyn.gr/efkriti/koinonia/265835_esteilan-piso-200-prosfyges-giati-itan-tzihantistes

    • Greece’s coast guard accused of mass migrant pushbacks

      An NGO, the #Aegean_Boat_Report (ABR), has accused the Greek coast guard of pushing back 197 migrants at sea last week.

      Greek coast guards have been accused by the NGO Aegean Boat Report (ABR) of performing illegal pushbacks involving 197 people and seven life rafts off the coast of the island of Crete in the Southern Aegean.

      A boat carrying 197 people was on its way trying to cross from Turkey to Italy on October 20 but ran into bad weather and changed course towards Crete, the NGO said.

      Close to the south shore of Crete, the vessel reported engine problems and, according to the Norwegian organization, the Greek coast guard was alerted at 9 am.

      ’’The Greek coast guard divided the people into two groups onto two coast guard vessels, 121 men and boys on one vessel, and 76 people, mostly families, on the other.

      Abuse on board

      Reports from the refugees clearly state that some of them were abused while onboard the Hellenic coast guard vessel, with footage and video testimony being provided,’’ said ABR via a media statement.

      According to ABR, the first group with the 121 men and boys were forced into three life rafts in the early hours of Wednesday, October 21 just north of Rhodes, before being found and picked up by the Turkish coast guard at 8:50 am south of Marmaris.

      The second group of 76 people, made up of families, were put into four life rafts at around noon north-west of the islands of Simi, drifting for hours and not picked up by Turkish coast guards before 5:30 pm south-west of Data.

      ’Largest pushback’ ABR has documented

      ’’This shows that the Greek coast guard is determined to prevent anyone from reaching Greek soil, no matter the consequences or potential harm they may inflict on innocent people fleeing war and persecution’’, added ABR.

      ’’This is by far the largest pushback Aegean Boat Report has been able to document, but I guess nothing is a surprise anymore. No measures have been taken by the EU to try to stop this illegal practice by the Greek government, even if they have received overwhelming amounts of evidence.’’

      29 NGOs and humanitarian groups sent an open letter to Parliament Last week’s incidents were reported after an appeal was launched by several prominent NGOs and humanitarian groups earlier this month on the topic of illegal pushbacks.

      A total of 29 organizations sent an open letter to Parliament urging it to investigate reports of illegal pushbacks at the country’s land and sea borders with neighboring Turkey.

      The letter called on the Greek Parliament to ’’immediately conduct an effective, transparent and impartial investigation into allegations that personnel from the Coast Guard, the Greek Police and the Greek Army, sometimes in close cooperation with masked men in uniform, have engaged in such actions, which are not only illegal but also endanger the lives and safety of displaced people."

      Tensions on migration in Greece

      Tensions on the migrant issue in Greece continue to run high following September’s fires which destroyed the controversial Moria open camp on Lesbos, and widespread lockdowns at refugee camps across the country following outbreaks of coronavirus cases.

      The reports of pushbacks taking place have prompted action from humanitarian rights groups, with the joint-appeal calling for disciplinary and criminal sanctions, as deemed appropriate, “on anyone in uniform who are found to have participated in such illegal activities, but also for their superiors who are responsible for the administration of these bodies.”

      “The investigation should establish the identity and relationship of the masked men and other unidentified officers to law enforcement, and take steps to hold them to account.”

      State pushes ahead with migrant camps

      Meanwhile, in related developments, the government is pressing ahead with plans to create more secure and strictly controlled ’’closed’’ migrant reception centers on the Aegean islands.

      With the COVID-19 pandemic creating further challenges and complications for the operation of existing camps, most of which are under lockdown due to positive cases of the virus, the state is aiming to build new ’’permanent’’ structures, starting with one on Lesbos.

      The situation on Lesbos is the primary concern right now, as the current temporary facility which was hastily set up in the Kara Tepe area on the coast after Moria was burned down, has already flooded twice with the first rainfalls of the season.

      Lesbos Mayor Stratis Kytelis met with government officials in Athens last week to discuss the location of a new permanent facility on the island, although the plans are being met with resistance from local community groups.Greece’s health authorities, meanwhile, are also conducting regular COVID-19 tests at migrant camps on the Aegean islands to ensure that any outbreak is quickly contained.

      https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/28139/greece-s-coast-guard-accused-of-mass-migrant-pushbacks

    • Frontex sous pression après des accusations de refoulement de migrants aux portes de la Grèce

      C’est une première : mardi 10 novembre, le conseil d’administration de l’Agence européenne des garde-frontières et de garde-côtes Frontex devra examiner des accusations de refoulements illégaux (ou « pushbacks ») de migrants en mer Egée. Elles ont été portées contre Frontex par un groupe de médias. En octobre, le site d’investigation Bellingcat et le magazine Der Spiegel notamment, avaient rapporté, images et témoignages à l’appui, six épisodes au cours desquels des embarcations avaient été bloquées, contrairement aux règles internationales sur le non-refoulement.

      Celles-ci stipulent que des personnes ne peuvent être renvoyées vers un pays, avant un examen de leur situation, si leur existence est en danger en raison de leur race, leur religion, leur nationalité ou leur appartenance à un groupe social ou politique.

      Il aura apparemment fallu une intervention ferme de la Commission européenne pour que la direction de Frontex, devenue le premier corps en uniforme et la plus importante agence de l’Union avec un budget de quelque 500 millions d’euros, accepte de convoquer un conseil extraordinaire. Dans un premier temps, elle s’était contentée d’affirmer, le 24 octobre, qu’elle respectait la loi internationale et était en contact avec la Grèce, qui devait ouvrir « une enquête interne ».
      Enquête interne

      « Si l’agence est impliquée dans de telles actions, c’est totalement inacceptable », déclarait pour sa part la commissaire à la migration, Ylva Johansson, le 26 octobre. Le lendemain, Frontex promettait une enquête interne et, même si elle n’exerce pas une tutelle directe sur l’agence, la Commission obtenait la convocation d’une réunion. A charge pour Fabrice Leggeri, le directeur français, de fournir des explications détaillées.

      « La Grèce ne participe pas à des refoulements, a affirmé de son côté le ministre grec des migrations, Notis Mitarachi. Nous gardons nos frontières en respectant le droit international et nous continuons à sauver des centaines de migrants tous les jours en Méditerranée », a-t-il précisé.

      Athènes fait face depuis des mois à de nombreuses accusations de refoulement en mer Egée et à la frontière terrestre avec la Turquie, dans l’Evros. Le 14 août déjà, le New York Times avait affirmé que les gardes-côtes grecs avaient abandonné en « pleine mer » des canots remplis de migrants. Interviewé par CNN, le premier ministre conservateur Kyriakos Mitsotakis avait démenti : « Cela n’est jamais arrivé. Nous sommes les victimes d’une vaste campagne de désinformation », suggérant que les journalistes avaient interrogé principalement des sources turques voulant décrédibiliser les autorités grecques.

      Depuis l’envoi par la Turquie de milliers de réfugiés à la frontière terrestre de l’Evros, en mars, Athènes a toujours assuré vouloir « protéger ses frontières » qui sont aussi celles de l’Europe et faire face à « une menace ». Le gouvernement a renforcé le contrôle des frontières en embauchant notamment du personnel supplémentaire. Entre avril et juillet, les arrivées à Lesbos ont diminué de 85 % par rapport à l’année dernière, selon le ministère des migrations.
      Des « abus sont trop nombreux pour être ignorés »

      Pour de nombreuses ONG présentes sur le terrain, cette diminution spectaculaire est le résultat de « pushbacks ». Selon Human Rights Watch, « les preuves et les rapports décrivant les abus sont trop nombreux pour être ignorés ». L’organisation dit avoir interrogé des victimes et des témoins qui décrivent comment les garde-côtes grecs, la police, et des hommes masqués et vêtus d’habits sombres ont effectué depuis les îles de Rhodes, de Samos et Simi, des refoulements illégaux de personnes sur de petits canots gonflables.

      A la fin août, le Haut-Commissariat aux réfugiés (HCR) de l’ONU se disait « inquiet de l’augmentation des publications depuis mars 2020 attestant de refoulements illégaux ». « Le HCR a reçu des rapports et des témoignages de personnes abandonnées en pleine mer pendant un long moment, souvent sur des rafiots surpeuplés », précisait le communiqué.

      L’Observatoire grec des accords d’Helsinki a déjà déposé une plainte auprès de la Cour suprême grecque pour le refoulement de plus de 1 300 personnes en s’appuyant sur les témoignages recueillis par plusieurs ONG. En septembre, 29 organisations de défense des droits de l’homme ont par ailleurs adressé une lettre au premier ministre et au parlement grecs pour réclamer une enquête. Leur courrier est encore sans réponse alors que 35 membres d’ONG font, eux, l’objet d’une investigation : ils sont suspectés d’avoir renseigné des migrants sur les positions des gardes-côtes ainsi que des passeurs sur des lieux d’accostage. Ces humanitaires travaillent pour des organisations qui ont dénoncé avec le plus de véhémence les refoulements vers la Turquie par les gardes-côtes grecs.

      Frontex, qui a engagé en Grèce quelque six cents agents dotés de divers moyens de surveillance, a déjà fait l’objet d’autres accusations mais affirme à chaque fois respecter un code de conduite qui prohibe strictement les refoulements. La communication très cadenassée de l’agence ne détaille toutefois pas comment les contrôles sont vraiment exercés. L’action du service interne chargé de contrôler le respect des droits fondamentaux reste également nébuleuse. Une situation déplorée par le HCR, membre du forum consultatif chargé de conseiller l’agence européenne dans son action.

      https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2020/11/05/frontex-sous-pression-apres-des-accusations-de-refoulement-de-migrants-aux-p

    • EU: Probe Frontex Complicity in Border Abuses. Ensure Independent and Effective Investigation

      The top governing body of the European Union Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) should urgently establish an independent inquiry into allegations of its involvement in unlawful operations to stop migrants from reaching the European Union (EU), Human Rights Watch said today.

      The agency’s board will hold an extraordinary meeting on November 10, 2020. Frontex should also address serious and persistent violations by border and law enforcement officers of the countries where it operates.

      “The fact that Frontex may have become complicit in abuses at Greece’s borders is extremely serious,” said Eva Cossé, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Management Board of Frontex should quickly open an inquiry into Frontex involvement in – or actions to disregard or cover up – abuses against people seeking protection from conflicts and persecution.”

      On October 23, a group of media outlets published a detailed investigative report alleging Frontex involvement in pushback operations at the Greek-Turkish maritime border, in the Aegean Sea. The reports said that asylum seekers and migrants were prevented from reaching EU soil or were forced out of EU waters. Such pushbacks violate international law, Human Rights Watch said.

      EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on October 28 that she had asked, in coordination with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, “to convene an urgent extraordinary Frontex Management Board meeting on 10 November, to discuss alleged push-back incidents in Greece and fundamental rights protection.”

      Frontex’s mandate obliges officers and the officers of member states deployed to respect fundamental rights, but the agency has been under heavy criticism for the shortcomings of its internal monitoring and accountability mechanisms. On October 27, Frontex announced an internal inquiry into the incidents reported by the media.

      In recent years, nongovernmental groups and media outlets have consistently reported the unlawful return, including through pushbacks, of groups and individuals from Greece to Turkey, by Greek law enforcement officers or unidentified masked men who appear to be working in tandem with border enforcement officials.

      Since Frontex deployed officers along the full length of the Turkey-Greece land border in March, Human Rights Watch has documented that Greek law enforcement officers routinely summarily returned asylum seekers and migrants through the land border with Turkey. Human Rights Watch found that officers in some cases used violence and often confiscated and destroyed migrants’ belongings.

      Greek authorities have said that police officers wearing dark blue uniforms work at police stations. Border patrol police officers wear military camouflage uniforms. Frontex guards wear their national uniforms, with a blue armband with the EU flag.

      In July, Human Rights Watch documented collective expulsions, through the Evros river land border, of asylum seekers rounded up from deep inside Greece.

      In a June 19 response to questions posed by Human Rights Watch, Frontex wrote that no abuses against migrants by Greek border guards or by police or border guards of other EU member states deployed under Frontex had been reported to Frontex. It said that Frontex does not have the authority to investigate allegations of abuse by EU member states’ police or border guards deployed in Greece. It said that such investigations are conducted by the competent national authorities.

      In June, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it was deeply concerned about persistent reports of pushbacks and collective expulsions of migrants, in some cases violent, at Greece’s border with Turkey. In August, the UN Refugee Agency flagged concerns over the increasing number of credible reports of pushbacks at Greece’s land and sea borders.

      In May 2019, Frontex told Human Rights Watch that it had not detected any human rights violations or pushbacks during its operational presence at Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite consistent evidence of brutal pushbacks, reports from international and regional organizations, and the confirmation by Croatian officials that such abuses were taking place.

      Under the Frontex mandate, its executive director has the authority to, and should, withdraw financing, and suspend or terminate its activities if there are serious violations of fundamental rights related to its activities. The executive director is also expected to take into account information provided by relevant international organizations.

      On July 6, during a debate at the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on fundamental rights at the Greek border, Johansson said that pushbacks by Greek border guards should be investigated. In its new Pact on Migration and Asylum, presented on September 23, the European Commission recommended to member states to set up an independent monitoring mechanism, amid increased allegations of abuse at the EU’s external borders.

      Members of the Frontex Management Board should set up an independent, prompt, effective, transparent, and impartial investigation into allegations that officers deployed by Frontex were involved in unlawful operations of pushbacks of asylum seekers. Any officer found to have engaged in such illegal acts, as well as their commanding officers and officials who have command responsibility over such forces, should be subject to disciplinary and criminal sanctions, as applicable.

      The investigation should also identify whether Frontex failed to report or otherwise address allegations of serious fundamental rights violations committed by law enforcement or border officers of the member state hosting operations.

      “An EU agency with a clear mandate to act in compliance with fundamental rights has the responsibility to do everything possible to prevent such severe violations,” Cossé said. “If Frontex not only turned a blind eye to abuses committed under its sight, or worse, directly took part in them, it becomes every EU member state’s responsibility.”

      https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/09/eu-probe-frontex-complicity-border-abuses

    • Frontex calls for committee to consider questions related to sea surveillance

      Today, Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri has called for the creation of an evaluation committee to consider legal questions related to the Agency’s surveillance of external sea borders and accommodating the concerns raised by Member States about “hybrid threats” affecting their national security at external borders where the European Border and Coast Guard Agency will deploy its standing corps.

      Under the Frontex proposal, the committee would be coordinated by the European Commission with the participation of Member States on a volunteer basis. It would address various questions, in particular those related to Regulation 2014/656 in the light of the current operational situation.

      Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri also expressed the Agency’s continued commitment to highest standards of protection of fundamental rights.

      “Any allegation of misconduct or infringement of international treaties or fundamental rights in the framework of joint operations coordinated by Frontex is treated with grave concern and carefully investigated,” said Fabrice Leggeri.

      “I am committed to reinforce the office of the Fundamental Rights Officer and to gradually increase its budget,” he added.

      Leggeri also proposed that the Frontex Fundamental Rights Officer to play a bigger role in raising awareness of the operational officers on the legal requirements that they need to apply on everyday basis in the field.

      “This could apply not only to the Frontex-deployed staff, but also to the staff of the International Coordination Centres, who often play an essential part in deciding to react to complicated events,” Leggeri said.

      https://frontex.europa.eu/media-centre/news-release/frontex-calls-for-committee-to-consider-questions-related-to-sea-surv

    • #Ombudsman opens inquiry to assess European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) ‘#Complaints_Mechanism’

      European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has opened an inquiry to look into how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) deals with alleged breaches of fundamental rights. In particular, the investigation will assess the effectiveness and transparency of Frontex’s Complaints Mechanism for those who believe their rights have been violated in the context of Frontex border operations, as well as the role and independence of Frontex’s ‘Fundamental Rights Officer’.

      In 2013, as part of a previous inquiry, the Ombudsman recommended that Frontex set up an individual complaints mechanism, and that its Fundamental Rights Officer be in charge of the mechanism. Since then, such a mechanism was put in place and further developed, with a view to providing safeguards for fundamental rights in the context of Frontex’s expanding mandate, as well as ensuring increased accountability and redress for those impacted by its actions.

      This inquiry focuses on whether the Complaints Mechanism and the Fundamental Rights Officer are truly empowered to deal with the issues faced by migrants and asylum seekers who feel their rights have been violated under Frontex operations.

      In opening the inquiry, the Ombudsman has sent a set of detailed questions to Frontex on the Complaints Mechanism and the Fundamental Rights Officer. She has also informed members of the European Network of Ombudsmen (ENO), with a view to their possible participation in the inquiry, as part of the ENO’s parallel work. This is important, given the role of national authorities in Frontex operations, and the fact that some national ombudsmen are responsible for following up on complaints related to this.

      Among other things, the questions set out by the Ombudsman look at: how and when Frontex will be updating the mechanism to reflect its expanded mandate; what happens to complainants who are faced with forced return while their complaint is still being processed; what appeal possibilities are open to complainants; how Frontex monitors complaints against national authorities; how those who have been affected by Frontex operations but are in non-EU countries can complain about alleged breaches of fundamental rights, including the issue of language; and the role of the Fundamental Rights Officer in this process.

      https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/news-document/en/134739

    • Frontex: Cover-Up and Diversion. Outcomes of and Responses to the Frontex Management Board meeting on 10th November

      An extraordinary meeting took place on Tuesday 10th November, between the EU Commission and Frontex, regarding alleged Frontex involvement in illegal pushbacks in Greece.

      Why did the meeting take place?

      This meeting was called due to an overwhelming amount of evidence suggesting the involvement or complicity of Frontex in pushbacks. Reports by Spiegel, Report Mainz, Bellingcat and other international media, including Josoor and other members of the BVMN, had led to this meeting taking place. These investigations show Frontex involvement in at least six pushbacks through, for example, blocking boats and making waves to deter boats from getting any closer to the shore. According to Frontex insiders, mission reports were routinely altered into something more positive, excluding explicit mentions of pushbacks, before being sent to Frontex headquarters in Warsaw, Poland.

      We, at the Border Violence Monitoring Network, took advantage of the opportunity presented by the meeting on 10th November by sending a letter of concern to the Executive Director of Frontex and the FRO. This letter included evidence from testimonies, collected by BVMN partners, including Josoor, from people-on-the-move who claim that Frontex personnel were involved or complicit in pushbacks operations at the borders between Greek and Turkey, and Albania and Greece. The letter questioned Frontex’s knowledge and understanding of these allegations, and demanded an investigation into these claims. The letter was also addressed to the EU commissioner of Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, and her officer and we hoped this was presented as evidence at the management board meeting on 10th November

      What were the outcomes?

      Johansson remarked on twitter after the meeting:

      “Today’s @Frontex extraordinary management board was a good start to what I want to be a transparent process. The @EU_Commission has asked the Frontex Executive Director to reply to Qs ahead of the next scheduled board meeting (end November).”

      Leggeri, the Executive Director of Frontex, has been ordered by the EU Commission to answer questions concerning these accusations by the end of November. Frontex is yet to comment in detail on the allegations and reported incidents have been forwarded to the Greek coastguard, where also the Greek authorities have refused to comment and denied involvement. Both Frontex and the Greek authorities have launched internal investigations in response to these allegations. Unsurprisingly, after just 48 hours of their investigations, Frontex announced that they were innocent.

      The meeting also included a discussion on whether Frontex should withdraw from missions, such as the one in the Aegean Sea in the event of serious and persistent human rights violations. Such a directive can be found already in Frontex’s regulations. Officials of a few member states vetoed the application of this rule, and Greek representatives in particular were concerned that this could expose the Greek government.

      In the end, a compromise was met. A Frontex statement outlined that a ‘Commission of Inquiry’ will now be made to deal with legal questions concerning operations at sea borders. This will be coordinated by the EU Commission.

      “Any allegation of misconduct or violation of international agreements or fundamental rights within joint operations coordinated by Frontex will be treated with grave concern and investigated closely,” Leggeri said.

      Also, Frontex seeks to strengthen the role of the Fundamental Rights Officer, but experts agree that the internal mechanisms at Frontex are insufficient and therefore see this move as insufficient. As of yesterday, Frontex is advertising for the vacancy of the FRO.

      Members of EU Parliament reactions:

      Tineke Strik (from Netherlands, Green) commented, according to Spiegel, “The announcement did not mention the human rights violations at the border. A committee does not replace a truly independent and transparent investigation. Strik stated “Citizens need to know what has happened and how human rights violations are to be prevented in the future”

      Dietmar Köster (from Germany, SPD) stated, quoted from Tagesschau, "It is a unique cover-up attempt to divert attention from one’s own responsibility and failure to observe human rights”. Köster further stated that Leggeri’s statements showed the arrogance and ignorance of Frontex. “Basic and human rights apply to all. The European Border Management Agency is not exempt from their observance, it is not above the law.”

      An successful outcome: an independent inquiry:

      On the morning of Thursday 12th November, the European Ombudsman tweeted that they would open an inquiry into Frontex, assessing the effectiveness and transparency of their ‘Complaints Mechanism’ and the role and independence of the ‘Fundamental Rights Officer’ (FRO). The latter is especially important as the current ad interim FRO, Annegret Kohler, appointed in 2018, and re-appointed in September 2020, was selected from the Executive Director’s former cabinet, where she was an advisor to the Executive Director. This raises questions about independence and objectivity of the FRO and the FRO’s team to carry out their duties and avoid potential conflicts of interest. Josoor welcomes this investigation.

      https://www.josoor.net/post/frontex-cover-up-and-diversion

    • EU erhöht Druck auf Frontex-Chef

      Die EU-Grenzschutzagentur gerät durch Recherchen des ARD-Magazins Report Mainz und weiterer Medien in Bedrängnis. Heute musste die Frontex-Führung der EU-Kommission zum Thema illegale Pushbacks Rede und Antwort stehen.

      Die Europäische Kommission erwartet Antworten vom Frontex-Chef. Bis Ende November muss sich Fabrice Leggeri zur Verwicklung seiner Grenzschutzagentur in illegale Pushbacks von Flüchtlingen äußern. Das ist das Ergebnis einer Dringlichkeitssitzung des Frontex Management Boards. Das Treffen sei ein guter Anfang gewesen, sie wolle den Prozess transparent gestalten, twitterte die zuständige EU-Kommissarin Ylva Johansson. Leggeri solle bis zur nächsten Zusammenkunft des Management Boards auf die Fragen der Kommission antworten.
      Recherchen bringen Frontex in Bedrängnis

      Johansson hatte das Treffen einberufen, um über eine gemeinsame Recherche des ARD-Magazins Report Mainz, des „Spiegel“ und der Medienorganisationen Bellingcat, Lighthouse Reports und tv Asahi zu diskutieren. Die Medien hatten aufgedeckt, dass Frontex-Einheiten in der Ägäis in illegale Zurückweisungen von Flüchtlingen verwickelt sind.

      Seit April waren Frontex-Beamte nachweislich bei mindestens sechs sogenannten Pushbacks in der Nähe. Auf einem Video ist zu sehen, wie ein Frontex-Schiff ein überladenes Flüchtlingsboot zunächst blockiert, die Insassen aber nicht rettet. Stattdessen fahren die Frontex-Beamten mit hohem Tempo an dem Flüchtlingsboot vorbei und verlassen dann den Ort des Geschehens. Vertrauliche Gespräche mit Frontex-Beamten legten zudem nahe, dass diese ihre Berichte schönen, bevor sie an die Zentrale in Warschau geschickt werden.

      Keine Äußerung von Frontex und Griechenland

      Frontex ist auf die Vorwürfe bis heute nicht im Detail eingegangen. Alle gemeldeten Vorfälle seien an die griechische Küstenwache weitergeleitet worden, diese habe eine interne Untersuchung eingeleitet, teilte die Genzschutzagentur in einem Statement mit. Nach der Antwort der griechischen Behörden seien seine Zweifel ausgeräumt, sagte Leggeri zudem in einem Interview.

      Auch die griechischen Behörden hatten sich zu den Pushbacks nicht im Detail äußern wollen. Sie bestreiten die Vorwürfe pauschal, obwohl die ARD, der „Spiegel“ und andere Medien die Pushbacks mehrfach dokumentiert haben. Nach Angaben von Teilnehmern im „Spiegel“ sahen sich vor allem die griechischen Mitglieder des Management Boards bei dem Treffen Fragen ausgesetzt. Diskutiert wurde unter anderem ein Statement, welches betonen sollte, dass Frontex sich bei schwerwiegenden und anhaltenden Menschenrechtsverletzungen von Missionen wie der in der Ägäis zurückziehen muss.

      Griechen haben Angst vor Bloßstellung

      Ein solche Vorschrift findet sich schon jetzt in den Frontex-Regularien. Beamte einiger weniger Mitgliedsstaaten legten ihr Veto dagegen ein, dass die Anwendung dieser Regel nun in den Raum gestellt werden soll. Besonders die griechischen Teilnehmer fürchteten, dass das Statement die griechische Regierung bloßstellen könnte.

      Am Ende einigte man sich auf einen Kompromiss. Es soll ein Komitee geschaffen werden, das sich mit rechtlichen Fragen zu Einsätzen an der Seegrenzen beschäftigt, heißt es in einem Frontex-Statement. Die Kommission solle dem Vorschlag zufolge die Arbeit des Komitees koordinieren, Mitgliedsstaaten könnten sich auf freiwilliger Basis beteiligen. Im Komitee sollen auch die Sorgen einige Mitgliedsstaaten vor „hybriden Bedrohungen“ eine Rolle spielen. Vor allem Griechenland hatte immer wieder davor gewarnt, dass türkische Geheimdienste sich unter die Migranten auf den Inseln mischen könnten.

      Außerdem will Frontex nach eigener Aussage den sogenannten Fundamental Rights Officer stärken. Der Beamte ist bei Frontex dafür zuständig, dass die Grenzschützer die Grundrechte von Schutzsuchenden achten. Allerdings halten Beobachter alle bestehenden internen Überwachungsmechanismen bei Frontex für unzureichend.
      Kritik aus Europaparlament

      Nach den Enthüllungen der ARD und ihrer Recherchepartner hatten mehrere Europaparlamentarier von Leggeri eine vollständige Untersuchung der Vorwürfe gefordert. Die Grünen-EU-Abgeordnete Tineke Strik kritisierte das Frontex-Statement. Die Ankündigung erwähne die Menschenrechtsverletzungen an der Grenze nicht, sagte sie. Ein Komitee ersetze keine wirklich unabhängige und transparente Untersuchung. „Die Bürger müssen erfahren, was geschehen ist und wie Menschenrechtsverletzungen in Zukunft verhindert werden sollen“, so Strik.

      „Das Ganze ist eine große Nebelkerze“, sagte Europaparlamentarier Dietmar Köster von der SPD. „Es ist ein einzigartiger Vertuschungsversuch, von der eigenen Verantwortung und dem Versagen bei der Einhaltung von Menschenrechten abzulenken“,

      https://www.tagesschau.de/investigativ/report-mainz/frontex-pushbacks-103.html

    • EU-Grenzpolizei Frontex: Keine Untersuchung zu Verstößen gegen Menschenrechte

      Im März war die EU-Grenzpolizei Frontex in einen versuchten Verstoß gegen Menschenrechte verwickelt. Wie von uns veröffentlichte Akten zeigen, untersuchte Frontex den Vorfall aber nicht, sondern kehrte ihn unter den Teppich.

      Als ARD, Spiegel und Bellingcat vor drei Wochen aufdeckten, dass die Europäische Grenzpolizei Frontex an illegalen Pushbacks an EU-Grenzen beteiligt ist, versprach der Frontex-Direktor Fabrice Leggeri schnell Aufklärung. Die EU-Agentur werde die Vorwürfe untersuchen, nach denen Frontex Geflüchtete völkerrechtswidrig aus der EU abgeschoben hatte.

      „Jeder Vorwurf des Fehlverhaltens oder der Verletzung internationaler Verträge oder Grundrechte im Rahmen gemeinsamer Operationen, die von Frontex koordiniert werden, wird mit großer Besorgnis behandelt und sorgfältig untersucht.“

      Frontex-Direktor Fabrice Leggeri (Übersetzung von FragDenStaat)

      Ein interner E-Mail-Verlauf von Frontex, den wir per Informationsfreiheitsanfrage erhalten haben, zeigt jetzt jedoch, dass die EU-Agentur in vergleichbaren Fällen offenbar kein Interesse daran hat, Verstöße gegen Menschenrechte zu untersuchen. EU Observer hatte zunächst darüber berichtet.
      Dänemark widersetzt sich Frontex-Befehlen

      Bereits am 2. März diesen Jahres hatte Frontex in der Nähe der griechischen Insel Kos versucht, ein Boot mit 33 geflüchteten Menschen, die griechische Gewässer erreicht hatten, in die Türkei abzuschieben. Das griechische Frontex-Kommando befahl einem Schiff der Dänischen Marine mit dem Namen „Stela Polaris“, die Geflüchteten nicht an Land zu bringen, sondern wieder in ein Gummiboot zu setzen und aufs offene Meer Richtung Türkei zu schleppen. Der dänische Befehlshaber des Schiffes widersetzte sich dem rechtswidrigen Befehl jedoch und erreichte durch seine dänischen Vorgesetzten, dass er aufgehoben wurde.

      Frontex hatte den Vorgang bisher nie öffentlich zugegeben. Der dazugehörige E-Mail-Verkehr aus der Frontex-Zentrale in Warschau, den wir veröffentlichen, zeigt, dass Pushbacks die Entscheidungsträger um Direktor Fabrice Leggeri kaum interessierten. Erst aus der Presse erfuhr das Hauptquartier überhaupt davon, dass Frontex in einen versuchten Verstoß gegen die Menschenrechte verwickelt war.

      Einen Bericht – intern Serious Incident Report genannt – gab es trotz der Schwere des Vorfalls nicht. Die Frontex-Pressesprecherin forderte deswegen in Erwartung von Presseanfragen am Morgen des 6. März, vier Tage nach dem Vorfall, bei ihren Kolleg:innen einen Bericht zu den Vorfällen an. Am Nachmittag wurde sie informiert, dass es in der Tat einen versuchten Pushback gegeben hatte.

      Menschenrechte geprüft in vier Stunden

      Bemerkenswert ist, wie die Frontex-Zentrale anschließend mit den Informationen umging: Es schloss die Akten. Bereits vier Stunden nach der Meldung über Vorfall kamen die Frontex-Mitarbeiter:innen zu der Einschätzung, der versuchte Pushback sei ein „Einzelfall“. Er wurde noch nicht einmal beim täglichen Treffen der Befehlshabenden in der Frontex-Mission besprochen.

      Weitere Informationen zu dem Vorfall finden sich in den Akten laut Frontex nicht. Die Frontex-Mitarbeiter:innen überprüften nicht die Kommando-Strukturen und prüften nicht, warum es keinen internen Bericht zu dem rechtswidrigen Befehl gab. Sie unternahmen auch sonst keine Versuche, um sicherzustellen, dass Pushbacks durch das Frontex-Kommando nicht mehr vorkommen würden. Im Sommer schließlich gab Frontex-Direktor gegenüber dem Europäischen Parlament zu Protokoll, der versuchte Pushback sei ein „Missverständnis“ gewesen.

      Einige Monate später fanden Journalist:innen Beweise dafür, dass es sich offenbar nicht um einen Einzelfall handelt und Frontex mindestens im Juni an weiteren Pushbacks beteiligt war. Die EU-Agentur hatte offenbar kein Interesse daran, Verstöße gegen Menschenrechte zu unterbinden.

      https://fragdenstaat.de/blog/2020/11/18/frontex-pushbacks-denmark

    • Council of Europe’s anti-torture Committee calls on Greece to reform its immigration detention system and stop pushbacks

      In a report published today on a rapid reaction ad hoc visit to Greece in March 2020, the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee (CPT) once again urges the Greek authorities to change their approach towards immigration detention and to ensure that migrants deprived of their liberty are treated both with dignity and humanity.

      The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published today the report on its ad hoc visit to Greece, which took place from 13 to 17 March 2020, together with the response of the Greek authorities.

      In the report, the CPT acknowledges the significant challenges faced by the Greek authorities in dealing with large numbers of migrants entering the country and that it requires a coordinated European approach. However, this cannot absolve the the Hellenic Republic from their human rights obligations and the duty of care owed to all migrants that the Greek authorities detain.

      The CPT found that the conditions of detention in which migrants were held in certain facilities in the Evros region and on the island of Samos could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. The report again underlines the structural deficiencies in Greece’s immigration detention policy. Migrants continue to be held in detention centres composed of large barred cells crammed with beds, with poor lighting and ventilation, dilapidated and broken toilets and washrooms, insufficient personal hygiene products and cleaning materials, inadequate food and no access to outdoor daily exercise. Extreme overcrowding in several of the facilities further aggravated the situation. In addition, migrants were not provided with clear information about their situation.

      The CPT once again found that families with children, unaccompanied and separated children and other vulnerable persons (with a physical or mental health illness, or pregnant women) were being detained in such appalling conditions with no appropriate support. The CPT calls upon the Greek authorities to end the detention of unaccompanied children and of children with their parents in police establishments. Instead, they should be transferred to suitable reception facilities catering to their specific needs.

      The report also highlights that the CPT again received consistent and credible allegations of migrants being pushed back across the Evros River border to Turkey. The Greek authorities should act to prevent such pushbacks. The CPT furthermore raises concerns over acts by the Greek Coast Guard to prevent boats carrying migrants from reaching any Greek island and it questions the role and engagement of FRONTEX in such operations.

      The CPT calls upon the Greek authorities to take vigorous steps to stamp out ill-treatment of detained migrants by the police. The report refers to a number of allegations by migrants that they had been ill treated by members of the Hellenic Police and/or Coast Guard either upon apprehension or after being brought to a place of detention. The ill treatment alleged consisted primarily of slaps to the head and kicks and truncheon blows to the body.

      In their response, the Hellenic Police provide information on the steps being taken to improve the conditions of detention for detained migrants. They also state that the alleged practice of pushbacks to the border is unsubstantiated and completely wrong. As regards unaccompanied minors, reference is made to a new strategy to end their detention and to their transfer from reception centres on the islands to safe accommodation facilities on the mainland.

      https://search.coe.int/directorate_of_communications/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=0900001680a06bcf

    • Annex to the reply of Fabrice Leggeri to the LIBE Committee

      https://www.tinekestrik.eu/sites/default/files/2020-11/Answers%20to%20the%20questions%20from%20the%20LIBE%20Commitee.pdf

      –---

      Thread sur twitter:

      It looks like Frontex are NOT denying that they may be involved in #pushbacks after all. FL partly evades (’...always committed...’) and partly seems to blame the ’uniqueness’ of operational areas & ’complex geography’ of the Greek and Turkish border for FX being involved in pushbacks.

      –---

      The earlier letter sent to the EP President might offer some clues. I’m not a legal expert, but FL seems to suggest that Art. 6 of Reg. 656/2014 (on interception at sea) needs to be clarified so as to define what constitutes a #pushback. Interesting.
      https://www.tinekestrik.eu/sites/default/files/2020-11/Letter%20to%20EP_Frontex%20maritime%20operations%20at%20EU%20external%20

      –—

      Yet not all pushbacks happen at sea. While the request for interpretation above might mean that FX is looking for a way out re: #pushbacks at the Aegean, what about those at the
      Greek-Turkish land border? I think there’s less concern with #pushbacks at #Evros, though. No videos...

      –---

      Back to the Annex: We know SIRs weren’t submitted as they should. The real question is why. It might be down to officers on the ground lacking in training (they shouldn’t, but...) or not wanting to get their colleagues in trouble (the spirit of camaraderie...).

      –---

      BUT: Today’s Spiegel article refers to a ’Frontex official in charge’ advising a Swedish officer not to submit a SIR. FX management were aware few SIRs being submitted for years. Is it a practice dictated from the top? To avoid having evidence of violations?

      https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/pushbacks-in-der-aegaeis-wie-frontex-menschenrechtsverletzungen-vertuscht-a-

      –—

      Suspension/non-launch of operations has never happened. The ED didn’t take into account reports by NGOs or human rights bodies when considering the 2016 recommendation to suspend operations in Hungary. He relied on the very low number of SIRs to reject it.
      https://respondmigration.com/wp-blog/fundamental-rights-accountability-transparency-european-governance

      –—

      Same with the 2019 & 2020 recommendations of the FRO to consider suspension of operations in #Evros. As for taking into account media reports ... well, I’d say the reply to the LIBE committee reads like the media accounts are being dismissed.

      https://twitter.com/lk2015r/status/1331662031095787521

    • E.U. Border Agency Accused of Covering Up Migrant Pushback in Greece

      Frontex is under fire for letting Greece illegally repel migrants as the agency expands to play a more central role at the bloc’s external borders.

      Mounting evidence indicates that the European Union’s border agency has been complicit in Greece’s illegal practice of pushing back migrants to Turkey, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with officials.

      In at least one case, Frontex, as the E.U. border agency is known, is accused of having helped cover up the violations, when a crew said it was discouraged by agency officials from reporting that they had seen the Greek authorities setting a boatload of migrants adrift in Turkish waters.

      The case is currently being investigated by Frontex. But it has fueled suspicions that the agency, newly boosted in its role as upholder of the rule of law at E.U. borders, is not just sporadically aware of such abuses, but that it plays a role in concealing them.

      “We are seeing an erosion of the rule of law at the E.U. borders which is willful,” said Gerald Knaus, a migration expert. “This is deeply worrying because it is eroding the refugee convention on the continent on which it was created.”

      Throughout this year, The New York Times and others have reported on growing operations by the Greek Coast Guard to repel migrants from Greek waters back to Turkey, reports the Greek authorities deny amount to breaches of international laws.

      But revelations that Frontex has witnessed pushbacks have thrown the agency into a governance crisis that threatens to further blight the European Union’s liberal values, once again calling into question the bloc’s commitment to upholding its own laws on refugees.

      The cases have also highlighted a conundrum at the core of E.U. ambitions to tighten external borders by pooling resources and involving the bloc in the sensitive, zealously shielded work of sovereign border guards.

      Frontex is the European Union’s best-funded agency, with a budget of over $500 million, and will soon deploy the first uniformed officers in the bloc’s history. It has been built up specifically to help in migrant-rescue operations as the burden of policing Europe’s borders has fallen most heavily on its peripheral states, like Greece.

      It was also intended as a deterrent to the kind of mass arrival of refugees that sowed political crises across Europe after 2015, and fanned nationalist and populist movements.

      Yet Frontex is not empowered to stop national border guards from committing violations, and it is not clear how it can play a role as standard-bearer of E.U. laws when informing on national forces risks the working relationships on which its operations depend.

      Refugee arrivals to the European Union peaked five years ago and have dropped drastically since, but thousands of asylum seekers, many fleeing the wars in Afghanistan and Syria, still attempt the crossing. Unlike in the past, Greeks and their government have turned hostile to the new arrivals, exhausted by years in which asylum seekers have been bottled up in overrun camps on Greek islands.

      There is also a growing belief in the Greek and several other European governments that aggression at the borders and poor conditions at migrant camps will make the attempt to reach Europe less attractive for asylum seekers.

      Earlier this year, an analysis by The Times showed that the Greek government had secretly expelled more than 1,000 asylum seekers, often by sailing them to the edge of Greek territorial waters and abandoning them in flimsy inflatable life rafts in violation of international laws.

      The Greek Coast Guard has rescued thousands of asylum seekers over the years but has become much more aggressive this year, especially as Turkey used migrants to provoke Greece by encouraging them to cross the border.

      The Greek government has denied it is doing anything illegal in repelling migrant boats from its national waters, characterizing the operations as robust border guarding. But Mr. Knaus said “the denials are not serious,” and the practices are effectively happening in the open — under the eyes of E.U. border patrols.

      The documents obtained by The Times describe, in Coast Guard vernacular littered with acronyms, codes, time-stamps and coordinates, a seemingly incessant Ping-Pong of migrant dinghies between Greek and Turkish waters, with Frontex crews on vessels or aircraft in observer status.

      Four officials with direct knowledge of Frontex operations said that agency officials have been discouraging crews from filing reports on pushback incidents, and, in some cases, have stopped initial alerts of violations from being filed as “serious incident reports,” at times after consulting with the Greek authorities.

      They all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were concerned about losing their jobs, or were not authorized to brief the press.

      The Frontex spokesman, Chris Borowski, said the agency took the reporting of violations very seriously. “Pushbacks are illegal under international law,” Mr. Borowski said.

      In the latest case to come to light, a Swedish Coast Guard crew on deployment under Frontex witnessed a pushback to Turkish waters of a boat full of migrants by the Greek authorities on Oct. 30 off the Greek island of Chios.

      The Swedish crew was later advised by a Frontex officer to not report it, documents reviewed by The Times show. The Swedish representative to the management board of Frontex described the incident, and the suppression of the attempt to report it, at a meeting on Nov. 10 — the first known case of an E.U. member state reporting active interference by Frontex officials.

      The Swedish government did not comment. A spokesman for Frontex said the agency wouldn’t comment because of an “ongoing procedure.”

      Frontex has been working in Greece for more than a decade, providing sea, land and aerial surveillance and rescue capabilities and deploying crews from other member states under its command.

      The details now emerging push the agency deeper into a governance crisis which began in October when a consortium of news organizations, including the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, reported a number of occasions when Frontex crews witnessed pushbacks in Greece.

      The European Commission, which is part of the Frontex oversight system but does not control the agency, pushed for a special inquiry into these allegations and, at an emergency agency board meeting on Nov. 10, asked its leadership to answer detailed questions in writing.

      The answers arrived with a four-day delay, just 15 hours before the start of another meeting to discuss the problems on Wednesday. Yet another emergency meeting has been called in December, mounting pressure on the agency.

      Frontex has promised internal investigations but also quickly dismissed allegations, saying for example, in a letter seen by The Times, that it would look into the Swedish case, but that it had so far found no evidence that it happened.

      How these investigations shake out will matter a great deal for the future of Frontex, which was once little more than a back-office operation in Warsaw but now finds itself on the front lines of the nettlesome issue of migration that has the potency to make or break governments.

      Apart from helping member states with asylum-seeker arrivals, Frontex’s role as an E.U. agency by law is to respect fundamental rights, and bring up human-rights standards across national E.U. border agencies, which often don’t have a strong culture of upholding them.

      But claims that Frontex does not take fundamental rights seriously enough are growing. This year, only one million euros in its budget of 460 million euros — about $548 million — was allocated to rights monitoring.

      The agency was supposed to hire 40 fundamental-rights officers by Dec. 5 but the jobs have not yet been advertised. The agency is currently hiring for their boss, after years of staffing issues around that position. A Frontex spokesman said the delays stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic.

      Documents seen by The Times laid out how in one episode the Greek authorities were consulted before a report was made, and were able to suppress it. On Aug. 10, a German crew deployed by Frontex reported that a Greek Coast Guard vessel “took up border control measures prohibiting the landing to Samos.”

      The expression refers to maneuvering and making waves around a dinghy to repel it. The event was not recorded as a “serious incident,” because, the document said, the Greek Coast Guard argued the activities “do not provide any ground” to initiate such a report.

      Another incident, which a Frontex aerial crew observed and reported in detail to its headquarters, took place on the evening of April 18 to 19 off the coast of Lesbos, and lasted more than five hours.

      A dinghy was detected by the Greek authorities and approximately 20 migrants were rescued and put on board a Greek Coast Guard vessel shortly after midnight, their empty dinghy towed by the Coast Guard toward the island.

      But instead of being taken to shore, at 2:45 a.m., the migrants were put back on their dinghy and tugged to Turkish waters by the Greek Coast Guard, the Frontex aerial crew reported.

      As events unfolded, the Greek command center twice asked the Frontex aircraft to change its flight path, directing it away from the incident.

      “At 03:21 Frontex Surveillance Aircraft communicates that the rubber boat has no engine and it is adrift. Greek assets are departing the area leaving the rubber boat adrift,” the document said.

      The internal Frontex report detailing this incident and categorizing it as a fundamental-rights violation was “dismissed,” the document shows.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/26/world/europe/frontex-migrants-pushback-greece.html

    • La Grèce fortement soupçonnée de refouler les migrants

      L’agence européenne Frontex, potentiellement impliquée dans les refoulements, mène une enquête interne et doit fournir des explications à la Commission européenne fin novembre. Une plainte a été déposée le 17 novembre auprès du comité des droits de l’homme de l’ONU.

      L’étau se resserre autour de la Grèce, de plus en plus fréquemment accusée de refouler les migrants vers la Turquie, aussi bien en mer qu’à terre. Le soupçon n’est pas nouveau, comme l’atteste le terrible récit de Fadi Faj. Ce jeune Syrien de 25 ans est arrivé en 2015 avec l’immense vague de demandeurs d’asile en Allemagne. Berlin lui octroie alors le statut de réfugié et un permis de séjour avec lequel il se rend en Grèce en novembre 2016, à la recherche de son jeune frère de 11 ans dont il a perdu la trace lors de sa traversée de la frontière greco-turque à Evros.

      Fadi Faj est alors arrêté par la police grecque qui lui confisque ses papiers et l’expulse vers la Turquie avec une cinquantaine d’autres demandeurs d’asile. Devenu un sans-papier, il sera à treize reprises repoussé de part et d’autre de la frontière par les forces grecques ou turques. Ayant enfin mis un pied à terre en Grèce en décembre 2017, il y vivra encore deux ans dans le dénuement avant d’obtenir un visa pour regagner l’Allemagne qui lui délivrera un nouveau permis de séjour en mai 2020.

      Une plainte auprès du Comité des droits de l’homme de l’ONU

      Ce récit glaçant fait l’objet d’une plainte à l’encontre de la Grèce déposée le 17 novembre auprès du Comité des droits de l’homme de l’ONU, par le Global Legal Action Network (Réseau mondial d’action juridique) basé en Irlande et l’ONG grecque HumanRights 360.

      Entre-temps, les cas du même type se sont multipliés. Surtout depuis le printemps dernier, après que le président turc Erdogan a menacé d’ouvrir les frontières et incité les migrants à se diriger vers la Grèce. « J’ai vu de mes yeux vu deux refoulements en mer depuis ma maison sur la côte nord de Lesbos », dénonce ainsi Christina Chatzidaki, une habitante de l’île qui jouxte les côtes turques, et y dirige l’association Siniparxi (Coexistence).

      Alarm phone qui reçoit les appels de détresse des embarcations en mer se déclarait en mai dernier « très préoccupé par la récente augmentation des rapports d’attaques sur les bateaux de migrants ». L’ONG avait alors engrangé les témoignages de survivants de 18 bateaux. « Ils ont fait état d’actions dangereuses, telles que le fait de tourner autour de leurs bateaux et de provoquer des vagues, des menaces avec des armes à feu, le vol de leur essence, la destruction de moteurs et, également, le remorquage de bateaux vers les eaux turques où ils ont été laissés à la dérive », précise l’ONG.
      Intimer la Commission d’agir

      Les dénonciations de pratiques qui violent les droits humains, et contreviennent au droit de la mer et au droit européen n’ont pas cessé par la suite. Le porte-parole du Haut-Commissariat aux réfugiés (HCR) déclarait le 12 juin dernier : « le HCR a continuellement fait état de ses préoccupations auprès du gouvernement grec et a demandé des enquêtes urgentes sur une série d’incidents présumés ». Il soulignait alors la corrélation entre la forte baisse du nombre d’arrivées de migrants en Grèce et l’augmentation du nombre de refoulements signalés. En 2019, 60 000 personnes avaient débarqué en Grèce par la mer et 15 000 par la terre. En 2020, jusqu’au 22 novembre, ils ne sont plus, respectivement, que 9 400 et 5 400.

      Jusqu’à présent la Grèce a nié ces allégations. « Nous protégeons nos frontières en accord avec les lois internationales et européennes » a encore affirmé le ministre grec de l’immigration Notis Mitarakis le 13 novembre dernier au site Infomigrants. Deux mois auparavant, le 22 septembre, les ONG Oxfam et WeMove adressaient une plainte auprès de la Commission européenne pour l’intimer de mener « une enquête sur les violations systématiques du droit européen concernant le traitement des demandeurs d’asile en Grèce ».
      La possible implication de Frontex

      Enfin, le site d’investigation Bellingcat et le magazine allemand Der Spiegel apportèrent en octobre un coup de grâce supplémentaire, en dénonçant, images à l’appui, le laisser-faire, voire l’implication, de l’agence européenne de surveillance aux frontières Frontex - qui a déployé plus de 600 agents en Grèce - dans six cas documentés de pratique illégale de refoulement.

      Un soupçon repris par le comité contre la torture du Conseil de l’Europe. Dans son rapport publié le 19 novembre, le comité a indiqué « avoir de nouveau reçu des allégations cohérentes et crédibles de migrants repoussés vers la Turquie ».

      Il s’est déclaré « inquiet des actes commis par les garde-côtes grecs pour empêcher les bateaux transportant des migrants d’atteindre les îles grecques » et « s’interroge sur le rôle et l’implication de Frontex dans de telles opérations ».

      Face à une telle avalanche, l’Union européenne pouvait difficilement continuer à se voiler la face. La suédoise Ylva Johansson, commissaire européenne aux affaires intérieures a réclamé des explications pour fin novembre à l’agence Frontex, laquelle a indiqué avoir ouvert une enquête interne.

      https://www.la-croix.com/Monde/Grece-fortement-soupconnee-refouler-migrants-2020-11-24-1201126401

    • Refoulements de demandeurs d’asile : le directeur de Frontex interrogé par les députés

      La supposée implication d’agents de Frontex dans les refoulements de demandeurs d’asile à la frontière grecque sera au cœur du débat en commission des libertés civiles mardi.

      Les députés seront en attente de réponses de la part du directeur exécutif de l’Agence européenne de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes, Fabrice Leggeri, concernant les incidents révélés récemment par les médias au cours desquels des garde-côtes grecs (avec la connaissance présumée et même l’implication d’agents de Frontex) ont arrêté des migrants qui tentaient d’atteindre les côtes de l’UE et les ont renvoyés dans les eaux turques. Les députés devraient s’enquérir des résultats de l’enquête interne menée par l’Agence européenne de gestion des frontières et de la réunion du conseil d’administration convoquée à la demande de la Commission européenne.

      En octobre dernier, avant les révélations des médias, le forum consultatif de Frontex (qui réunit notamment des représentants du Bureau européen d’appui en matière d’asile (EASO), de l’Agence des droits fondamentaux de l’UE (FRA), du HCR, du Conseil de l’Europe et de l’OIM) avait exprimé son inquiétude dans son rapport annuel. Le forum pointait du doigt l’absence de véritable système de contrôle permettant de prévenir et de traiter les violations potentielles des droits fondamentaux dans les activités de l’Agence.

      Le 6 juillet, au cours d’une précédente réunion de la commission des libertés civiles, Fabrice Leggeri avait assuré aux eurodéputés que Frontex n’était pas impliquée dans les refoulements et avait qualifié l’incident avec l’équipe danoise à bord de l’un des navires de l’Agence de ‘‘malentendu’’.

      DATE : mardi 1er décembre de 13h50 à 14h45

      LIEU : Parlement européen à Bruxelles, bâtiment Antall, salle 4Q2 et à distance

      https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/fr/press-room/20201126IPR92509

    • EU border chief urged to quit over migrant pushback claims

      European Union lawmakers lashed out Tuesday at the head of Frontex over allegations that the border and coast guard agency helped illegally stop migrants or refugees entering Europe, calling for his resignation and demanding an independent inquiry.

      The lawmakers grilled Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri over an investigation in October by media outlets Bellingcat, Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, ARD and TV Asahi, which said that video and other publicly available data suggest Frontex “assets were actively involved in one pushback incident at the Greek-Turkish maritime border in the Aegean Sea.”

      The report said personnel from the agency, which monitors and polices migrant movements around Europe’s borders, were present at another incident and “have been in the vicinity of four more since March.” Frontex launched an internal probe after the news broke.

      “In his handling of these allegations, Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri has completely lost our trust and it is time for him to resign,” senior Socialist lawmaker Kati Piri said in a statement after the parliamentary civil liberties committee hearing. “There are still far too many unanswered questions on the involvement of Frontex in illegal practices.”

      Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which say people shouldn’t be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality or being members of a social or political group.

      Frontex’s board met to discuss the allegations late last month. The board said afterwards that the European Commission had ordered it to “hold a further extraordinary meeting within the next two weeks in order to consider in more detail the replies provided by the agency.” That meeting is scheduled to take place on Dec. 9.

      “Migrants and refugees are very vulnerable to pushbacks by border guards,” Greens lawmaker Tineke Strik said. “We must be able to rely on an EU agency which prevents human rights violations from happening and not inflict them. But Frontex seems to be a partner in crime of those who deliberately violate those human rights.”

      Strik raised doubts about whether the internal Frontex probe would produce results and urged the assembly’s political groups to consider launching their own inquiry.

      Leggeri said that no evidence of any Frontex involvement in pushbacks had been found so far. He said EU member countries have control over operations in their waters, not Frontex, and he called for the rules governing surveillance of Europe’s external borders to be clarified.

      “We have not found evidence that there were active, direct or indirect participation of Frontex staff or officers deployed by Frontex in pushbacks,” he told the lawmakers. When it comes to operations, Leggeri said, “only the host member state authorities can decide what has to be done.”

      Leggeri also said that Frontex staff were under extreme pressure around the time of the alleged incidents in March and April. He said that Turkish F-16 fighter jets had “surrounded” a Danish plane working for Frontex, while vessels were harassed by the Turkish coast guard and shots fired at personnel at land borders.

      He called for EU “guidance” on how to handle such situations.

      The allegations are extremely embarrassing for the European Commission. In September it unveiled sweeping new reforms to the EU’s asylum system, which proved dismally inadequate when over 1 million migrants arrived in 2015, many of them Syrian refugees entering the Greek islands via Turkey.

      Part of the EU’s migration reforms includes a system of independent monitoring involving rights experts to ensure that there are no pushbacks at Europe’s borders. Migrant entries have dropped to a relative trickle in recent years, although many migrants still languish on some Greek islands waiting for their asylum claims to be processed or to be sent back.

      EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she still has confidence in Frontex’s managing board but remains deeply concerned about the allegations.

      During a visit to Morocco, Johansson said that the report “concerns me a lot. If it’s true, it’s totally unacceptable. A European agency has to comply to EU law and fundamental rights with no excuse.”

      Johansson said she has “full confidence in the process that (has) gone on in the management board and the sub-group they are setting up” to continue the investigation, but, she noted that “there were a lot of questions put to the director. And he has not answered these questions.”

      https://www.ekathimerini.com/259789/article/ekathimerini/news/eu-border-chief-urged-to-quit-over-migrant-pushback-claims

    • Frontex is taking us to court

      The EU border police Frontex is under fire for its involvement in human rights violations at the EU’s borders. Now, they want to silence those exposing their wrongdoing.

      For many years, we have been fighting to make Frontex, the EU’s border police, more transparent and accountable. We have made public over a thousand of their documents, including those that show the agency has been complicit in human rights violations and violence against migrants at the EU’s borders.

      Frontex is currently under fire for its involvement in illegal pushbacks in the Aegean and for having concealed evidence about these illegal acts. Confronted with such serious accusations, the EU border agency has now chosen to go after those who investigate them: they are taking us to court.

      Frontex has filed a case against us before the General Court of the European Union in order to force us to pay them a large amount of money. Last year, we lost our lawsuit for information about Frontex and now, the agency is demanding from us excessive legal fees. The message is clear: they want to make sure that we never take them to court again.
      Details must remain secret

      For the time being, we will not be able to disclose further details related to the case due to the court’s rules on keeping all information secret while proceedings are ongoing. Back in January, the agency justified their excessive legal fees on their decision to hire expensive private lawyers.

      Frontex, which has a billion-euro budget, making it the best resourced EU agency, employs a well-staffed internal legal department. Both the decision to hire private lawyers and to then claim these costs from civil society are highly unusual in court cases against the EU authorities.
      What happens if Frontex wins?

      If Frontex succeeds, in the future only corporations and the rich will be able to afford legal action against EU authorities. Activists, journalists, NGOs and individuals will not be able to defend human rights before the EU court. Frontex bringing a case like this directly against civil society, let alone winning, discourages others from holding them accountable in the future. It’s this chilling effect that we believe they’re hoping for.

      In the spring, more than 87,000 people petitioned Frontex to withdraw their legal bill. 44 civil society organizations also called on Frontex to retract its demand. Frontex has nonetheless chosen to ignore their voices.

      In recent years, Frontex has experienced an enormous increase of power and resources. Not only is it about to receive € 11 billion under the next EU budget, but it can also now hire its own border guards and buy its own equipment, including aircrafts, ships, drones and weapons.

      Investigating Frontex and holding it accountable is now more important than ever. As recent publications have revealed, the EU border force has been involved in numerous human rights violations at the EU borders.
      What you can do

      Our freedom of information work is financed by individual donations. We will fight in court for a judgement that gives Frontex as little money as possible. If you want to support us in this, we would be very happy to receive a donation. We will use every extra euro for new investigations and legal action against Frontex.

      https://fragdenstaat.de/en/blog/2020/12/02/frontex-costs-court-transparency

    • S&Ds call for Frontex Director to resign

      The S&D Group in the European Parliament today called for the Executive Director of Frontex to resign following months of allegations on the agency’s involvement in illegal practices and violations of fundamental rights.

      In today’s hearing of the civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee (LIBE), Director Fabrice Leggeri failed to answer questions relating to the agency’s involvement in pushbacks at the EU’s external borders aimed at preventing asylum-seekers from entering the EU.

      Following the hearing, S&D MEPs concluded Mr Leggeri’s position at the head of Frontex is not sustainable, especially in light of the important role for Frontex in the new Pact on Migration and Asylum.

      Kati Piri, S&D vice-president for migration and LIBE member taking part in the hearing, said

      “In his handling of these allegations, Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri has completely lost our trust and it is time for him to resign. After months of the S&D Group calling for explanations, Director Leggeri had the chance to set the record straight. But there are still far too many unanswered questions on the involvement of Frontex in illegal practices.

      “Pushbacks are a violation of international law and every single incident must be fully investigated. Do we have the confidence in Frontex to ensure alleged incidents are properly investigated? After today, the answer is no.

      “As long as allegations hang over Frontex, its reputation remains severely damaged and in desperate need of repair. In our view, Director Leggeri is not the right person to fix the damage.”

      Birgit Sippel, S&D LIBE coordinator, added:

      “We have to ask ourselves how we got to the point where we have to rely on journalists and whistle-blowers in Frontex to inform us of instances of fundamental and human rights violations at our borders. This is unacceptable and deeply disturbing, in particular when considering the potentially increased role of Frontex as part of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.

      “The series of alleged pushbacks and cover-ups from Frontex show that we need a strong and independent border monitoring mechanism to investigate any and all alleged violations of fundamental and human rights and international laws at European borders.

      “Under the 2019 Frontex mandate, the Agency was obliged to have recruited at least 40 Fundamental Rights Monitors by 5 December 2020. It is now clear that Frontex will not even have come close to fulfilling this task, and therefore will not comply with the new mandate. Blaming bureaucratic hurdles for the delay of such an important task is insufficient, while the Commission’s role in this delay requires further examination as well. Mr Leggeri has failed in many of his responsibilities and must bear the consequences of his actions.”

      https://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/newsroom/sds-call-frontex-director-resign

    • E.U. Border Agency Accused of Covering Up Migrant Pushback in Greece

      Frontex is under fire for letting Greece illegally repel migrants as the agency expands to play a more central role at the bloc’s external borders.

      Mounting evidence indicates that the European Union’s border agency has been complicit in Greece’s illegal practice of pushing back migrants to Turkey, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with officials.

      In at least one case, Frontex, as the E.U. border agency is known, is accused of having helped cover up the violations, when a crew said it was discouraged by agency officials from reporting that they had seen the Greek authorities setting a boatload of migrants adrift in Turkish waters.

      The case is currently being investigated by Frontex. But it has fueled suspicions that the agency, newly boosted in its role as upholder of the rule of law at E.U. borders, is not just sporadically aware of such abuses, but that it plays a role in concealing them.

      “We are seeing an erosion of the rule of law at the E.U. borders which is willful,” said Gerald Knaus, a migration expert. “This is deeply worrying because it is eroding the refugee convention on the continent on which it was created.”

      Throughout this year, The New York Times and others have reported on growing operations by the Greek Coast Guard to repel migrants from Greek waters back to Turkey, reports the Greek authorities deny amount to breaches of international laws.

      But revelations that Frontex has witnessed pushbacks have thrown the agency into a governance crisis that threatens to further blight the European Union’s liberal values, once again calling into question the bloc’s commitment to upholding its own laws on refugees.

      The cases have also highlighted a conundrum at the core of E.U. ambitions to tighten external borders by pooling resources and involving the bloc in the sensitive, zealously shielded work of sovereign border guards.

      Frontex is the European Union’s best-funded agency, with a budget of over $500 million, and will soon deploy the first uniformed officers in the bloc’s history. It has been built up specifically to help in migrant-rescue operations as the burden of policing Europe’s borders has fallen most heavily on its peripheral states, like Greece.

      It was also intended as a deterrent to the kind of mass arrival of refugees that sowed political crises across Europe after 2015, and fanned nationalist and populist movements.

      Yet Frontex is not empowered to stop national border guards from committing violations, and it is not clear how it can play a role as standard-bearer of E.U. laws when informing on national forces risks the working relationships on which its operations depend.

      Refugee arrivals to the European Union peaked five years ago and have dropped drastically since, but thousands of asylum seekers, many fleeing the wars in Afghanistan and Syria, still attempt the crossing. Unlike in the past, Greeks and their government have turned hostile to the new arrivals, exhausted by years in which asylum seekers have been bottled up in overrun camps on Greek islands.

      There is also a growing belief in the Greek and several other European governments that aggression at the borders and poor conditions at migrant camps will make the attempt to reach Europe less attractive for asylum seekers.

      Earlier this year, an analysis by The Times showed that the Greek government had secretly expelled more than 1,000 asylum seekers, often by sailing them to the edge of Greek territorial waters and abandoning them in flimsy inflatable life rafts in violation of international laws.

      The Greek Coast Guard has rescued thousands of asylum seekers over the years but has become much more aggressive this year, especially as Turkey used migrants to provoke Greece by encouraging them to cross the border.

      The Greek government has denied it is doing anything illegal in repelling migrant boats from its national waters, characterizing the operations as robust border guarding. But Mr. Knaus said “the denials are not serious,” and the practices are effectively happening in the open — under the eyes of E.U. border patrols.

      The documents obtained by The Times describe, in Coast Guard vernacular littered with acronyms, codes, time-stamps and coordinates, a seemingly incessant Ping-Pong of migrant dinghies between Greek and Turkish waters, with Frontex crews on vessels or aircraft in observer status.

      Four officials with direct knowledge of Frontex operations said that agency officials have been discouraging crews from filing reports on pushback incidents, and, in some cases, have stopped initial alerts of violations from being filed as “serious incident reports,” at times after consulting with the Greek authorities.

      They all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were concerned about losing their jobs, or were not authorized to brief the press.

      The Frontex spokesman, Chris Borowski, said the agency took the reporting of violations very seriously. “Pushbacks are illegal under international law,” Mr. Borowski said.

      In the latest case to come to light, a Swedish Coast Guard crew on deployment under Frontex witnessed a pushback to Turkish waters of a boat full of migrants by the Greek authorities on Oct. 30 off the Greek island of Chios.

      The Swedish crew was later advised by a Frontex officer to not report it, documents reviewed by The Times show. The Swedish representative to the management board of Frontex described the incident, and the suppression of the attempt to report it, at a meeting on Nov. 10 — the first known case of an E.U. member state reporting active interference by Frontex officials.

      The Swedish government did not comment. A spokesman for Frontex said the agency wouldn’t comment because of an “ongoing procedure.”

      Frontex has been working in Greece for more than a decade, providing sea, land and aerial surveillance and rescue capabilities and deploying crews from other member states under its command.

      The details now emerging push the agency deeper into a governance crisis which began in October when a consortium of news organizations, including the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, reported a number of occasions when Frontex crews witnessed pushbacks in Greece.

      The European Commission, which is part of the Frontex oversight system but does not control the agency, pushed for a special inquiry into these allegations and, at an emergency agency board meeting on Nov. 10, asked its leadership to answer detailed questions in writing.

      The answers arrived with a four-day delay, just 15 hours before the start of another meeting to discuss the problems on Wednesday. Yet another emergency meeting has been called in December, mounting pressure on the agency.

      Frontex has promised internal investigations but also quickly dismissed allegations, saying for example, in a letter seen by The Times, that it would look into the Swedish case, but that it had so far found no evidence that it happened.

      How these investigations shake out will matter a great deal for the future of Frontex, which was once little more than a back-office operation in Warsaw but now finds itself on the front lines of the nettlesome issue of migration that has the potency to make or break governments.

      Apart from helping member states with asylum-seeker arrivals, Frontex’s role as an E.U. agency by law is to respect fundamental rights, and bring up human-rights standards across national E.U. border agencies, which often don’t have a strong culture of upholding them.

      But claims that Frontex does not take fundamental rights seriously enough are growing. This year, only one million euros in its budget of 460 million euros — about $548 million — was allocated to rights monitoring.

      The agency was supposed to hire 40 fundamental-rights officers by Dec. 5 but the jobs have not yet been advertised. The agency is currently hiring for their boss, after years of staffing issues around that position. A Frontex spokesman said the delays stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic.

      Documents seen by The Times laid out how in one episode the Greek authorities were consulted before a report was made, and were able to suppress it. On Aug. 10, a German crew deployed by Frontex reported that a Greek Coast Guard vessel “took up border control measures prohibiting the landing to Samos.”

      The expression refers to maneuvering and making waves around a dinghy to repel it. The event was not recorded as a “serious incident,” because, the document said, the Greek Coast Guard argued the activities “do not provide any ground” to initiate such a report.

      Another incident, which a Frontex aerial crew observed and reported in detail to its headquarters, took place on the evening of April 18 to 19 off the coast of Lesbos, and lasted more than five hours.

      A dinghy was detected by the Greek authorities and approximately 20 migrants were rescued and put on board a Greek Coast Guard vessel shortly after midnight, their empty dinghy towed by the Coast Guard toward the island.

      But instead of being taken to shore, at 2:45 a.m., the migrants were put back on their dinghy and tugged to Turkish waters by the Greek Coast Guard, the Frontex aerial crew reported.

      As events unfolded, the Greek command center twice asked the Frontex aircraft to change its flight path, directing it away from the incident.

      “At 03:21 Frontex Surveillance Aircraft communicates that the rubber boat has no engine and it is adrift. Greek assets are departing the area leaving the rubber boat adrift,” the document said.

      The internal Frontex report detailing this incident and categorizing it as a fundamental-rights violation was “dismissed,” the document shows.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/26/world/europe/frontex-migrants-pushback-greece.html?smid=tw-share

    • #Seehofer deckte offenbar griechische Verbrechen

      Griechische Grenzschützer setzen Flüchtlinge systematisch auf dem Meer aus. Ein internes Dokument legt nun nahe, dass Innenminister #Horst_Seehofer einen Rechtsbruch kaschierte. SPD-Vize Kühnert stellt ihm ein Ultimatum.

      Die Sprecherin von Bundesinnenminister Horst Seehofer war sichtlich nervös, als sie sich Ende November den Fragen der Journalisten stellen musste. Zwei Tage zuvor hatten der SPIEGEL und das ARD-Magazin »Report Mainz« berichtet, dass die Bundespolizei in der Ägäis in eine illegale Zurückweisung von Flüchtlingen verwickelt war. Wiederholt fragten die Journalisten nach. »Ich weiß nicht, wie Sie zu der Einschätzung kommen, dass es sich hierbei um einen illegalen Pushback gehandelt hat«, sagte die Sprecherin schließlich.

      Dabei lagen dem Bundesinnenministerium zu diesem Zeitpunkt längst Informationen vor, die genau darauf hindeuten.

      Im Auftrag der EU-Grenzschutzagentur Frontex patrouillierten die deutschen Einsatzkräfte am 10. August in der Ägäis, nur wenige Hundert Meter von der griechischen Insel Samos entfernt. Dabei entdeckten sie ein Schlauchboot mit 40 Flüchtlingen an Bord. Auftragsgemäß hielten sie es an, allerdings nahmen sie die Menschen auf dem völlig überfüllten Boot nicht an Bord. Stattdessen warteten sie mehr als eine halbe Stunde, bis die griechische Küstenwache das Schlauchboot übernahm.

      Wenig später fanden sich die Flüchtlinge plötzlich in türkischen Gewässern wieder. So beschreiben es interne Dokumente der EU-Grenzschutzagentur Frontex, die dem SPIEGEL vorliegen. Die türkische Küstenwache musste die 40 Migranten später retten. Fotos zeigen Männer, Frauen und kleine Kinder auf dem überfüllten Schlauchboot. Offensichtlich wurden die Menschen von den griechischen Grenzschützern illegal zurückgedrängt.

      Als die griechischen Beamten in den Hafen zurückkehrten, wunderten sich die deutschen Polizisten. Die Küstenwache hatte keine Migranten an Bord und auch kein Schlauchboot im Schlepptau. Die Deutschen meldeten im Anschluss zwar die Details des Einsatzes – aber keine mögliche Menschenrechtsverletzung.
      Was genau haben die Deutschen von diesem illegalen Pushback mitbekommen?

      Bis heute haben die Bundespolizei und das Innenministerium nicht auf die Fragen des SPIEGEL geantwortet. Dabei finden sich die Antworten auf diese Fragen seit Wochen im Intranet der Bundespolizei, also in einem nur für Mitarbeiter zugänglichen Netzwerk. Anhand der elf SPIEGEL-Fragen legte die Bundespolizei-Führung ihre Sicht der Dinge ausführlich dar – noch am Tag der Veröffentlichung des Berichts. Die Fragen waren also längst beantwortet, nur abgeschickt wurden sie nie. Das Innenministerium erklärt das inzwischen auf Anfrage mit einem »Büroversehen«.

      Die Ausführungen im Intranet der Bundespolizei sind politisch heikel. Auf den ersten Blick entlasten sie die deutschen Einsatzkräfte. Wörtlich heißt es, die Bundespolizisten hätten beobachtet, »dass durch die (…) griechischen Einsatzkräfte Migranten physisch an Bord genommen wurden.« Die deutschen Frontex-Beamten konnten also davon ausgehen, dass die Flüchtlinge zunächst in Sicherheit waren. Schließlich wurden sie vor ihren Augen auf ein Schiff der griechischen Küstenwache geholt und trieben nicht mehr in ihrem überfüllten Schlauchboot.

      Warum hat das Innenministerium dieses Detail trotzdem bis heute verschwiegen? Will man im Ministerium die Griechen nicht als Lügner entlarven? Das Flüchtlingsboot, so hatten die griechischen Behörden erklärt, sei beim Anblick der Küstenwache umgekehrt und zurück in türkische Gewässer gefahren.
      Beobachtungen der Deutschen entlarven die Ausrede der Griechen

      Die Beobachtungen der Bundespolizisten widersprechen dieser Darstellung, die Bundespolizei stellt das in ihrem Bericht selbst fest. Wenn die Geflüchteten bereits an Bord des Schiffes der griechischen Küstenwache waren, können sie unmöglich freiwillig auf ihrem Schlauchboot umgekehrt sein. Sollten die Aussagen der Deutschen zutreffen, und davon ist auszugehen, bleibt keine andere vernünftige Erklärung als ein illegaler Pushback der griechischen Küstenwache.

      Horst Seehofer muss sich deshalb die Frage gefallen lassen, warum sein Haus die Verbrechen der griechischen Behörden deckt. Statt aufzuklären, führt er die Öffentlichkeit offenbar in die Irre. So fügt Seehofer sich in das System des Schweigens.

      Seit Juni hat SPIEGEL in gemeinsamen Recherchen mit der Medienorganisation Lighthouse Reports und »Report Mainz« genau dokumentiert, wie die griechischen Pushbacks ablaufen: Die Küstenwache fängt die Migrantinnen und Migranten meist noch auf dem Wasser ab. Manchmal zerstört sie den Außenbordmotor der Schlauchboote, um diese manövrierunfähig zu machen. Dann werden die Schutzsuchenden mit gefährlichen Manövern Richtung Türkei zurückgedrängt. Die Menschen werden auf den Booten oder auf aufblasbaren Rettungsflößen mit Seilen aufs offene Meer gezogen, vom SPIEGEL ausgewertete Videos belegen das.

      Griechische Grenzschützer bedrohen die Geflüchteten mit Waffen, nicht selten fallen Schüsse. Bisweilen schleppen die Beamten sogar Menschen aufs Meer, die es schon auf die griechischen Inseln geschafft haben.

      Auch Frontex-Einheiten stoppen immer wieder Flüchtlingsboote und übergeben sie anschließend an die griechische Küstenwache. Seit Anfang März wird das so gehandhabt. Die Frontex-Einheiten, darunter deutsche Bundespolizisten, unterstehen in der Ägäis der griechischen Küstenwache. Sie werden so zu Gehilfen der Griechen, die bei ihren illegalen Praktiken nicht mal besonders verdeckt vorgehen.

      »Das Innenministerium scheint sich zum Komplizen der Griechen zu machen«, sagt der menschenrechtspolitische Sprecher der Sozialdemokraten, Frank Schwabe. »Dazu müssen sowohl Frontex als auch Innenminister Seehofer dem Bundestag Rede und Antwort stehen.«

      Das Innenministerium teilte auf Anfrage mit, dass eine abschließende Bewertung des Sachverhaltes aufgrund der vorliegenden Informationen nicht möglich sei. Die Bundespolizei habe sich jedenfalls nicht an illegalen Pushbacks beteiligt. Eine vollständige Aufklärung bleibe abzuwarten und Berichte von griechischen Behörden würden nicht kommentiert.

      Die griechischen Behörden bleiben bei ihrer Version der Ereignisse. Das für die Küstenwache zuständige Ministerium teilte mit, der Fahrer der Schlauchbootes sei in Richtung Türkei zurückgefahren, nachdem er die griechische Küstenwache erblickt habe.
      »Wir müssen davon ausgehen, dass Seehofer die Regelverstöße der griechischen Küstenwache deckt, weil sie ihm politisch in den Kram passen«

      SPD-Vize Kevin Kühnert

      Doch in der Opposition und auch beim eigenen Koalitionspartner ist der Unmut groß. Selbst SPD-Vize Kevin Kühnert schaltet sich nun in die Debatte ein. Durch die schriftlich festgehaltenen Erkenntnisse der eigenen Beamten festige sich der Eindruck, dass es in der Ägäis in der Tat zu Pushbacks komme, sagt er. Deshalb müsse Seehofer nun politisch reagieren. »Frontex muss die mutmaßliche griechische Pushback-Praxis endlich effektiv verhindern und die Zugänge zum Asylverfahren sicherstellen«, so Kühnert. »Sollte dies durch die Bundesregierung kurzfristig nicht durchsetzbar sein, muss das deutsche Kontingent unverzüglich aus der Mission abgezogen werden.«

      Kühnert möchte nun von Seehofer »noch in diesem Jahr dargelegt bekommen, wie und bis wann er auf Frontex einwirken wolle, um die Zusammenarbeit mit der griechischen Küstenwache wieder auf eine rechtskonforme Grundlage zu stellen.« Mit seiner Salamitaktik bei der Preisgabe von Informationen werde der Innenminister auch der Fürsorgepflicht gegenüber seinen eigenen Beamten nicht gerecht, mahnt Kühnert. »Wir müssen davon ausgehen, dass Seehofer die Regelverstöße der griechischen Küstenwache deckt, weil sie ihm politisch in den Kram passen. Alles daran wäre inakzeptabel.«

      Neben Seehofer gerät auch Frontex-Chef Fabrice Leggeri durch die Beobachtungen der deutschen Polizisten in Erklärungsnot. Bis heute beteuert Leggeri, dass sich seine Grenzschützer nicht an Pushbacks beteiligen oder von ihnen wissen. Daran zweifelt aber inzwischen selbst die EU-Kommission.

      Auf deren Drängen schilderte Leggeri schriftlich die Details des Vorfalls vom 10. August. In seinen Antworten verschwieg aber auch Leggeri, dass die griechische Küstenwache laut den Deutschen die Flüchtlinge bereits an Bord geholt hatten – obwohl er wohl davon hätte wissen müssen. Die Bundespolizei jedenfalls hat auch dieses Detail des Einsatzes nach eigener Aussage an Frontex gemeldet.

      Frontex teilte auf Anfrage mit, wegen der laufenden Untersuchung keine Angaben zum Vorfall machen zu können.

      Für Leggeri ist die Angelegenheit besonders misslich, weil sich in seinen Aussagen ein Muster erkennen lässt: Der Frontex-Direktor täuscht die Öffentlichkeit, um die Pushbacks zu vertuschen. Vor den EU-Parlamentariern verteidigte er sich unlängst mit einer Falschaussage, indem er behauptete, dass der SPIEGEL und seine Recherchepartner sich bei ihren Recherchen zu einem Pushback im April geirrt hätten. Am fraglichen Tag habe es gar keinen Frontex-Aufklärungsflug gegeben, sagte Leggeri. Keine zwei Tage später musste er einräumen, dass das nicht stimmte. Weitere Vorfälle, die Experten als klare Pushbacks werten, erwähnte Leggeri entweder gar nicht oder nur auf Nachfrage in internen Schreiben.
      EU-Kommission rechnet mit Leggeri ab

      Inzwischen wirft auch die EU-Kommission Leggeri »irreführende« Aussagen vor. Das geht aus einem Brief der Kommission an ihn hervor. In dem Streit geht es um die Einstellung von Grundrechtsbeobachtern. Eigentlich hätte Frontex bis zum 5. Dezember 40 Mitarbeiter einstellen müssen, die darauf achten soll, dass die Rechte von Migranten an Europas Grenzen gewahrt werden. Bis heute hat Leggeri allerdings nicht einen solchen Mitarbeiter eingestellt.

      Der Frontex-Direktor macht die Kommission für die Verzögerung verantwortlich, die wiederum gibt Leggeri die Schuld. Leggeris Äußerungen zu dem Thema würden die Kommission »bestürzen« und »beunruhigen« heißt es in dem Brief. Das Schreiben liegt dem SPIEGEL vor, es liest sich wie eine Kampfansage.

      Die Verzögerungen bei den Grundrechtsbeobachtern seien skandalös, sagt die Grünenbundestagsabgeordnete Luise Amtsberg. Die Sache zeige, dass die Grenzschutzagentur den Menschenrechtsschutz schlicht nicht ernst genug nehme. »Die Bundesregierung muss endlich klare Konsequenzen aus den völkerrechtswidrigen Handlungen im Rahmen von Frontex-Missionen ziehen.«

      https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/frontex-skandal-horst-seehofer-deckte-offenbar-griechische-verbrechen-a-bd06

    • Push backs and violations of human rights at sea: a #timeline

      The following timeline provides a non-exhaustive compilation of main reports of push backs and other violations of human rights at the Greek-Turkish sea borders since March 2020, following Greece’s decision to impose a one-month suspension of its asylum procedure in response to declarations by Turkey that it would not prevent refugees from crossing its western borders. On 2 March, the Hellenic Armed Forces began live-fire military exercises along the Aegean, from Samothrace to Kastellorizo.

      Timeline dates refer to the date of publication of reports, separately indicating the date of alleged incidents, where available.

      This timeline solely purports to reproduce material made publicly available by media and civil society organisations and does not amount to an assessment by RSA or PRO ASYL of the allegations contained therein.

      https://rsaegean.org/en/push-backs-and-violations-of-human-rights-at-sea-a-timeline
      #chronologie

    • EU: Frontex director accused of misleading parliament over fundamental rights obligations

      Frontex director Fabrice Leggeri has been accused by a senior European Commission official of making statements “in a misleading manner” at a parliamentary hearing in December, when MEPs questioned him over the agency’s alleged role in pushbacks and the new fundamental rights monitoring framework included in 2019 legislation.

      Bang to rights

      In a letter obtained by Statewatch, Monique Pariat (the Director-General of the Commission’s migration and home affairs department), expresses “dismay” at Leggeri’s appearance before the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee (LIBE) on 1 December and rebukes, in no uncertain terms, the account he provided of the agency’s attempts to implement its new fundamental rights obligations.

      Those obligations include a fully functioning and independent fundamental rights office, an accessible complaints mechanism, and a credible serious incident reporting mechanism – the aim of which is to prevent, or at least ensure the reporting and investigation of, human rights abuses witnessed or committed by officials deployed on Frontex operations.

      A key role is foreseen in all this for the fundamental rights officer (FRO), who is supposed to head a team of at least 40 fundamental rights monitors – all of whom the agency was legally obliged to have recruited by 5 December 2020. However, it failed to do so.

      Blame game

      Leggeri told MEPs that although he personally prioritised the swift recruitment of fundamental rights staff, vacancy notices published by the agency in November 2019 were withdrawn on the request of the Commission, and subsequent delays in agreeing the seniority of the posts meant that vacancy notices were only published again in November 2020.

      Pariat does not dispute these points, but underlines that the Commission was obliged to request the withdrawal of the notices, because the Management Board had not approved them, as required by the 2019 Frontex Regulation. Without that approval, the letter says that “the publication of these vacancies was plain and simply unlawful” (emphasis in original).

      She adds that the Frontex Regulation requires the involvement of the FRO in the appointment of their deputy, but there was no such involvement prior to the 2019 vacancy notice publication. The Commission had to intervene to request removal of the vacancy notices, says Pariat, “to prevent serious irregularities which could jeopardise the well-functioning and the reputation of the Agency.”

      Bad reputation

      The agency’s reputation has nevertheless taken a battering in recent months. Frontex has faced numerous accusations that it either knew of or has been involved in pushbacks at Greece’s sea border with Turkey, leading the Socialists & Democrats – the second-largest group in the European Parliament – to call for Leggeri’s resignation. There are numerous other reports of similar violent incidents in the Balkans involving officials deployed on Frontex missions.

      The EU anti-fraud agency, OLAF, has also launched an investigation into the border agency, although the exact reasons for this remain unclear. OLAF’s remit allows it to carry out “administrative investigations for the purpose of fighting fraud, corruption and any other illegal activity affecting the financial interests of the Union.”

      Leggeri has said that the agency will be undertaking a thorough investigation into the allegations of pushbacks, although the working group set up to investigate the affair is made up representatives from the agency’s Management Board and does not include the Fundamental Rights Officer or the agency’s Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights.

      “Active resistance”

      A document cited by Greek newspaper Kathimerini suggests that fundamental rights are not one of Leggeri’s main interests. The document, provided to the paper by someone described as having “knowledge of the inner workings of Frontex,” says Leggeri told agency staff that “reporting pushbacks involving Frontex personnel is not a route to popularity or promotion,” and that the serous incident reporting (SIR) mechanism is “intentionally centralized to be slow, cumbersome and very discreet”.

      According to the paper, the document also says that Leggeri “actively resisted” hiring the 40 fundamental rights officers required by the Frontex Regulation, and told staff at the agency in early 2020 that “it is not a priority.”

      Pariat’s letter suggests that Leggeri himself delayed the procedure for recruiting new fundamental rights staff by five months, because of his “insistence on an arrangement which would not have been compatible with the EBCG [Frontex] Regulation”.

      There was a “surprising reluctance” from the agency to follow the Commission’s advice on implementing the new fundamental rights framework, says Pariat. She argues that “if the Agency had followed the Commission’s timely guidance and suggestions, the main milestones… could have been completed on time.”

      Even though the recruitment procedure is now going ahead, concerns remain. At the LIBE hearing in December, several MEPs questioned whether the staff grade applicable to the 40 posts will confer adequate authority and independence to the fundamental rights officers.

      At the time of publication, Frontex had not responded to a request for comment.

      Documentation

      - European Commission letter to Mr Leggeri, 18 December: Subject: Your letter of 4 December 2020 (ref: CAB/KARO/10563/2020) (pdf): https://www.statewatch.org/media/1708/eu-com-letter-to-frontex-18-12-20.pdf
      – Fabrice Leggeri, Answers to written questions following the LIBE Committee meeting 1 December (pdf) - annex to this letter (pdf): https://www.statewatch.org/media/1709/eu-frontex-written-questions-answers-libe-hearing-1-12-20.pdf

      https://www.statewatch.org/news/2021/january/eu-frontex-director-accused-of-misleading-parliament-over-fundamental-ri

    • Refoulements et gestion contestée : la pression s’intensifie sur le patron de Frontex

      Fabrice Leggeri, directeur exécutif de l’agence européenne de protection des frontières, est sous la pression de la Commission et du Parlement.

      Ce n’est pas un appel à la démission de Fabrice Leggeri, directeur exécutif de Frontex, mais cela y ressemble fort. Rencontrant, lundi 18 janvier, plusieurs médias européens, dont Le Monde, Ylva Johansson, commissaire européenne aux affaires intérieures et à la migration, a été interrogée sur un éventuel départ du patron français de ce qui est désormais l’Agence européenne de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes. « Je ne fais pas de commentaire là-dessus. Des procédures ont été lancées, elles ne sont pas terminées. Mais je pense qu’elles doivent l’être », indiquait la commissaire socialiste suédoise.

      Des propos prudents mais qui cachent mal le fait qu’entre la Commission et Frontex le torchon brûle. Pour preuve, une lettre envoyée au siège de l’agence en décembre 2020 par #Monique_Pariat, chef de la direction générale de la migration et des affaires intérieures à Bruxelles. Un long réquisitoire reprochant à M. Leggeri des retards, des carences dans la gestion et des « hésitations incompréhensibles » à suivre les instructions. Voire un #mensonge au sujet du recrutement des personnels qui devaient être chargés de veiller au respect des droits fondamentaux au sein de l’Agence.

      Les « procédures » visant M. Leggeri et évoquées par Mme Johansson sont multiples. Et elles visent essentiellement la possible implication de Frontex dans des « pushbacks », des refoulements illégaux de migrants aux frontières de l’Union, avant qu’ils aient pu introduire d’éventuelles demandes d’asile. En octobre 2020, plusieurs médias évoquaient, témoignages et images à l’appui, six cas de refoulements en mer Egée. Avec, notamment, les manœuvres dangereuses d’un navire de Frontex, qui aurait pu entraîner le #naufrage d’une embarcation. La direction de l’Agence démentait à l’époque toute infraction.

      Constitution d’un groupe de travail

      L’Office de lutte antifraude de l’Union a lancé une enquête et, le 7 décembre 2020, les bureaux de M. Leggeri et de son directeur de cabinet ont été perquisitionnés. L’investigation porterait, aussi, sur des faits de #harcèlement et des erreurs de gestion.

      Plusieurs groupes politiques du Parlement européen ont, eux, transmis une longue liste de questions au directeur exécutif après qu’il a été entendu, le 1er décembre 2020, par l’Assemblée. M. Leggeri avait indiqué qu’une #enquête_interne n’avait pas prouvé l’implication de membres de Frontex dans des refoulements illégaux. Peu convaincus, les eurodéputés du groupe socialiste ont exigé sa #démission, d’autres groupes ont réclamé des explications complémentaires.

      Au sein de Frontex même, un #groupe_de_travail avait été constitué en novembre, sur insistance de la Commission. Son rapport devrait être examiné lors d’une réunion du conseil d’administration, mercredi 20 et jeudi 21 janvier. Ce conseil est composé de représentants des pays membres de l’Union et de deux membres de la Commission.

      L’un des principaux reproches adressés à M. Leggeri est qu’il aurait tergiversé pour embaucher la quarantaine de personnes qui, en théorie, auraient dû être à pied d’œuvre dès décembre 2020 pour veiller au respect des droits des migrants et demandeurs d’asile. Dans la lettre de Mme Pariat qu’il a reçue en décembre, le directeur se voit reprocher d’avoir agi « de manière trompeuse » en ne livrant pas les explications correctes aux parlementaires quant à l’absence de ces employés. Mme Johansson pense également que certains des propos qu’il avait tenus n’étaient « pas vrais ».

      Action « illégale »

      La commissaire suédoise n’a, jusqu’ici, pas officiellement retiré sa confiance au directeur. Elle endosse cependant les critiques qui lui sont adressées par sa direction générale, qui évoque encore une action « illégale » de M. Leggeri en 2019, avec la publication de deux vacances de postes dirigeants qui n’avaient pas été approuvées par le conseil d’administration.

      Au Parlement, où la plénière débattait, mardi, du pacte migratoire proposé récemment par la Commission, la tension monte également. Mme Johansson a insisté sur la nécessité pour les pays de l’Union, les candidats à l’adhésion et « les agences européennes aussi » d’adhérer pleinement au respect des #droits_fondamentaux. Et plusieurs députés ont à nouveau mis en cause Frontex, l’élue socialiste bulgare #Elena_Yoncheva jugeant qu’en matière de « pushbacks » l’agence fait désormais « partie du problème, pas de la solution ».

      Une situation embarrassante pour toute l’Union : dotée maintenant d’uniformes, d’armes et d’un budget passé au total à 5,6 milliards d’euros pour la période 2021-2027, l’agence des garde-frontières peut difficilement voir la #légitimité de son principal dirigeant remise en question au plus haut niveau. A ce stade, celui-ci n’a pas réagi officiellement aux accusations qui le visent. Il pourrait le faire prochainement, selon un membre de son entourage.

      https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2021/01/20/refoulements-et-gestion-contestee-la-pression-s-intensifie-sur-le-patron-de-

    • Le garde-frontière Frontex en pleine tourmente

      Les refoulements aux frontières européennes fragilisent la position du directeur de Frontex, l’agence européenne de garde-frontières. La Commission reproche à Fabrice Leggeri d’avoir ralenti l’embauche d’officiers de contrôle des droits fondamentaux. Son agence est soumise à plusieurs #enquêtes, dont une de l’#office_européen_anti-fraude. Des députés demandent sa #démission.

      Bruxelles (Belgique).– Fabrice Leggeri, le directeur de Frontex, est cerné de toutes parts. Sa position, à la tête de l’agence européenne de garde-côtes et de garde-frontières, est fragilisée suite à de récents scandales concernant des refoulements de demandeurs d’asile vers la Turquie, auxquels aurait participé Frontex. Des députés appellent à sa démission. La médiatrice européenne, #Emily_O’Reilly, a ouvert une #enquête le 11 novembre dernier pour évaluer le fonctionnement du mécanisme de #plainte_interne à Frontex. Même l’office européen de lutte anti-fraude investigue et scrute la gestion de l’agence.

      Le dernier coup de boutoir vient de la #Commission_européenne. Dans une lettre du 18 décembre, la directrice générale chargée des migrations et des affaires intérieures, Monique Pariat, adressait des mots durs à Fabrice Leggeri au sujet d’irrégularités et de retards dans les procédures de recrutement d’un officier des droits fondamentaux, de son adjoint et de 40 contrôleurs des droits fondamentaux, qui devaient faire partie de l’agence le 5 décembre 2020 au plus tard et qui ne sont toujours pas embauchés : « C’est la responsabilité de la Commission […] d’intervenir pour empêcher que des irrégularités sérieuses viennent compromettre le bon fonctionnement et la réputation de l’agence. »

      La réputation de Frontex a pourtant déjà été écornée à de multiples reprises dans le passé, sans que l’exécutif bruxellois s’en émeuve. « Pendant longtemps la Commission a protégé Fabrice Leggeri, commente #Birgit_Sippel, eurodéputée allemande du groupe des socialistes et démocrates. Il semble que le vent tourne, notamment sous la pression du #Parlement_européen. »

      C’est le 23 octobre 2020 que le vent a tourné. Une série de médias européens, dont Der Spiegel et Bellingcat, publiaient alors une enquête fouillée suggérant que l’agence européenne avait, entre mars et août 2020, soit assisté à des refoulements de demandeurs d’asile en mer Égée par des garde-côtes grecs, sans les avoir rapportés, soit participé activement au renvoi de canots vers les côtes turques, alors que les refoulements sont strictement prohibés par le droit international. Le 8 juin, un navire de l’opération « #Poséidon » de Frontex, battant pavillon roumain, aurait même bloqué un canot de migrants avant de contribuer à le repousser.

      Fabrice Leggeri est venu s’expliquer devant le Parlement européen le 1er décembre. Selon lui, l’enquête interne menée par ses services concluait à « l’absence de preuves » de refoulement dans les cas mentionnés par la presse. Il insistait sur le fait que les activités de contrôle aux frontières avaient toujours lieu « à la demande et sous le commandement des autorités nationales », Frontex intervenant en coordination des opérations maritimes, en mobilisant des avions, des navires et des garde-frontières originaires des 27 États membres.

      Ces déclarations élusives ont hérissé de nombreux députés européens. « La façon dont il a répondu à nos questions montre que Fabrice Leggeri ne prend pas vraiment au sérieux ces allégations. Frontex a besoin de changements structurels, et je pense qu’il n’est pas la bonne personne pour les mener », avance Tineke Strik, eurodéputée néerlandaise des Verts.

      De la #gauche_unitaire_européenne (#GUE) au groupe centriste de #Renew, les critiques pleuvent à l’encontre de Fabrice Leggeri, mais l’attitude à adopter crée des divisions. La centriste néerlandaise, #Sophie_In’t_Veld, du groupe Renew, milite pour qu’une commission d’enquête parlementaire soit mise sur pied, « car on parle d’actes criminels ». Avant de réclamer la démission du directeur – qui ne peut être décidée que par le conseil d’administration de Frontex composé des États membres et de la Commission – la députée pense « qu’il faut d’abord faire toute la lumière sur les faits ».

      Au sein du groupe des socialistes et démocrates, des députés veulent aller plus vite. « Pourquoi perdre un an avec une #commission_d’enquête ?, s’interroge #Birgit_Sippel. Les rapports décrivant les violations des droits humains aux frontières sont là. Pour l’instant, Fabrice Leggeri se cache et échappe à ses responsabilités. » Des députés de la GUE comme des #Verts réclament à la fois une commission d’enquête et la #démission du directeur. Quant à la droite, le Parti populaire européen n’a pas encore de position sur ces thèmes, mais voit d’un mauvais œil cette idée de commission d’enquête.

      Le mastodonte sans contrôle

      Pour Yves Pascouau, directeur du programme Europe à l’association Res-Publica, par ailleurs spécialiste des questions migratoires européenne (et élu de la majorité nantaise), « l’augmentation des moyens et des pouvoirs de Frontex ne peut pas se faire sans une augmentation de ses responsabilités ».

      Frontex, au fil des ans, est devenu un mastodonte. En 2012, son budget était de 89,5 millions d’euros. Il est en 2020 de 460 millions. 5,6 milliards d’euros ont été dégagés pour la période 2021-2027. Il s’agit de la plus grosse agence de l’UE qui sera dotée, d’ici 2027, de 10 000 garde-côtes véritablement européens, avec leurs propres uniformes. « Cela permettra d’augmenter la transparence et la responsabilité de Frontex », veut croire une source européenne.

      Aujourd’hui, Frontex se déploie sous commandement des autorités nationales. Mais les agents qui agissent en son nom ne sont pas exempts de responsabilités. Ils ont l’obligation d’envoyer un rapport aux dirigeants de Frontex à chaque incident sérieux auquel ils assistent, y compris lorsque des violations des droits humains sont observées.

      Le Forum consultatif de Frontex, qui réunit des institutions européennes, des organisations internationales et ONG, s’interroge inlassablement sur « l’effectivité » de ce système. En 2018, seuls 3 incidents sérieux relatifs à des violations de droits humains furent comptabilisés par l’agence, et 9 en 2019, sans que l’on sache quel a été le suivi de ces dossiers.

      Quant à l’embauche des milliers de garde-frontières, elle doit être contrebalancée par davantage de contrôles des activités de Frontex. L’officier des droits fondamentaux, son adjoint et sa petite équipe d’au minimum 40 contrôleurs sont considérés comme la clef de voûte de ce système de surveillance du respect des #droits_humains.

      Dans la lettre adressée à Fabrice Leggeri, Monique Pariat regrette qu’au 18 décembre, aucun de ces recrutements n’ait été effectué. Elle pointe la « réticence surprenante de Frontex » à suivre les lignes directrices de la Commission, « ce qui a encore davantage entravé et retardé cet important processus ». La directrice générale dénonce encore la démarche « illégale » du directeur général qui avait publié, en 2019, une première annonce pour le poste d’officier des droits fondamentaux, sans l’accord du conseil d’administration de Frontex qui sera pourtant le supérieur hiérarchique direct de ce futur employé.

      Elle l’accuse encore d’avoir présenté les faits aux eurodéputés « de manière trompeuse ». L’attaque est frontale. Au-delà de l’enjeu institutionnel, Giorgos Kosmopoulos, du bureau européen d’Amnesty International, estime que « l’embauche de contrôleurs des droits fondamentaux n’est pas une mauvaise chose à condition qu’ils aient véritablement les moyens de mener des enquêtes, d’aller sur le terrain ». Et sur le terrain, justement, les refoulements aux frontières de l’Europe sont documentés et très nombreux. En #Grèce, en #Croatie, en #Hongrie.

      En mars 2020, le comité européen pour la prévention de la torture rapportait des allégations « crédibles et consistantes » de refoulements et détentions arbitraires, souvent accompagnées de violences, à la frontière gréco-turque. « On ne parle pas de cas isolés, ajoute Giorgos Kosmopoulos. La pratique est si répandue et généralisée qu’il est impossible que Frontex ne soit pas au courant, vu son implication sur le terrain. »

      Le directeur de Frontex, s’il estime qu’il existe « des violations graves […] des droits fondamentaux » doit mettre un terme à l’activité litigieuse à laquelle participe son agence. « Le directeur doit vérifier la situation sur le terrain et le cas échéant il doit retirer ses équipes pour qu’elles ne soient pas liées à des violations de droits humains, mais ce n’est jamais arrivé », conclut Giorgos Kosmopoulos.

      Dans ce contexte, Tineke Strik pense qu’une démission de Fabrice Leggeri, certes bienvenue, « ne résoudra pas tout. Les problèmes sont structurels. Il faudra lancer une enquête approfondie sur le fonctionnement de Frontex ».

      https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/international/210121/le-garde-frontiere-frontex-en-pleine-tourmente?onglet=full

    • Validating Border Violence on the Aegean: Frontex’s Internal Records

      The Aegean Sea, separating Turkey from Greece’s ‘hotspot’ islands, is a site of longstanding and increasingly visible border violence: the systematic use of inflatable life rafts by the Hellenic Coast Guard to push people back to Turkey has been widely documented since March last year. This maritime borderzone also stages the operational theatre of Frontex Joint Operation Poseidon, under which patrol boats, helicopters and surveillance planes have been deployed to patrol the extensive breadth of water.

      Frontex repeatedly denied any involvement in these pushbacks (see here and here), stressing its commitment to the protection, promotion and fulfilment of fundamental rights. This ‘modus operandi’ in which fundamental rights become a rhetorical defence could no longer hold after investigative reporters showed visual evidence of Frontex’s complicit role in pushbacks, prompting further media scrutiny and pressure by the European Parliament and Commission.

      In November, Efsyn, a Greek media outlet, published an eighteen-page long Frontex internal document addressed to the agency’s Management Board. The document aimed at answering questions by Member States and the Commission about the on-going pushbacks in the Aegean. The document, which fuelled Frontex’s recent internal inquiry, lists a series of so-called ‘incidents’ and, at times, offers detailed accounts of the previously denied pushbacks. However, these were not recorded as such.

      A closer look at the document reveals numerous ‘#JORA_incidents’ classified as ‘prevention of departure’, as this transcript from August 19, 2020, illustrates:

      frontex

      The #Joint_Operations_Reporting_Application (#JORA) is the main information system that collects and stores all ‘border related incidents’ from Frontex joint operations. Such incidents range from Search and Rescue (SAR) operations, interceptions, Serious Incident Reports to, as the one above, so-called preventions of departure. The leaked document contains twenty of the latter, all following a similar pattern: Firstly, the location of the rubber boat is recorded in Turkish territorial waters; second, Frontex assets are “excused from the scene” after detection; and, finally, a rehearsed ending: the boat “altered course on her own initiative/will and headed towards the Turkish coasts” or, alternately, the Turkish Coast Guard “took over responsibility”.

      Importantly, these JORA incidents coexist with the regular documenting of border violence. Descriptions of boats of asylum-seekers returning to Turkey of their own volition jar with regular testimonies describing the coercive methods employed to push them back. Alarm Phone, Aegean Boat Report and Border Violence Monitoring Network document human rights violations occurring at the same border, on the same dates and, often, at the same time as the JORA incidents.

      On the same day as the JORA incident above:

      Logging the border

      JORA incidents, together with information collected via Eurosur, form the backbone of Europe’s external borders and migration situational picture, Frontex’s narrative of the border. Yet, what is and is not accounted for in JORA and how, has not received much attention. Contrary to the few Serious Incident Reports related to violations of fundamental rights, which are dealt with by the Fundamental Rights Officer and presented to the Management Board, other incidents recorded in JORA don’t reach the public domain. Once inserted and validated, they become a dot on a map at the Frontex Situation Centre in Warsaw. They are devised to feed into risk analyses, maps and weekly analytical overviews.

      This ‘business-as-usual’ mode of reporting is mostly done by a few officers from the host Member State— in Greece, by the Hellenic Coast Guard and Police—who insert incidents into a standardised template through a set of rigid, mandatory fields. Reporting is not done by the officers on the patrol boats but mostly those who sit at coordination centres. Once inserted in the system, incidents are sent to the International Coordination Centre and the Frontex Situation Centre where they are cross-checked with reports from both Hellenic Coast Guard and Frontex deployed officers for validation. This validation process does not statically move in one direction; incidents can go back and forth in the validation chain. The final validation is done by a “specialized team of experts” at Frontex headquarters as the leaked document explains. Yet, incidents can be re-initiated and modified even after finalisation (see work by Pollozek).

      The design of the system allows for the rehearsed recording of formulaic bordering practices that, if closely examined, resemble its coexistent violent forms. Shading into the routine, the JORA records circulate regularly from the islands to Piraeus and Warsaw. While the full JORA archive is inaccessible to the public, the reviewed incidents give us insight into how a particular doctrine of border enforcement is being sustained by the agency and to what effects.

      Normalising violence, eroding rights

      The effects of these records arguably extend beyond the tactical level of border policing. Through their production, a narrative arc is formed by the recorded incidents, generating a specific mode of understanding. Data must be made intelligible to the JORA system and officials along the chain before it can be validated. As a result, even acts of violence such as pushbacks can get translated into mundane logs and thus, brought within the remit of everyday border enforcement and legality.

      The leaked document asserts that the “the notion of ‘prevention of departure”, according to which these ‘incidents’ are classified, should be interpreted “in conjunction with the provisions of Regulation 656/2014, in particular Articles 6 and 7”. While the precise legal meaning of this category in this context remains unclear, its ramifications for the right to leave a country are concerning.

      Regulation 656/2014 indeed provides legal basis (in certain factual circumstances) for the interception of boats carrying asylum-seekers. Yet, it clearly stipulates that the actions that official entities may lawfully take to enforce the border must be compliant with their obligations under EU and international law, including, inter alia, international human rights and refugee law. Moreover, it states: “This Regulation should not affect the responsibilities of search and rescue authorities, including for ensuring that coordination and cooperation is conducted in such a way that the persons rescued can be delivered to a place of safety.”

      The records, however, present an account of border enforcement that exists in isolation from human rights and humanitarian commitments. The dangerous conditions in which border enforcement takes place and the vulnerability of asylum seekers to these conditions are rendered irrelevant and thereby, banalised. Rubber boats carrying illegalized migrants are generally considered seaworthy, not recognised as in distress, regardless of how many people they carry or the fluctuating weather conditions in the Aegean. In none of the incidents contained in the leaked document was a SAR triggered by the Hellenic Coast Guard or Frontex. In this sense, JORA acts as a mediator that transforms, translates, distorts and modifies the meaning of these ‘incidents’. Through the designation of bureaucratic categories (e.g. prevention of departure), JORA codifies and transforms situations that should trigger humanitarian and human rights obligations into legitimate practices of border control. In the process, the duty to render assistance at sea is distorted, and the obligation to facilitate access to asylum is obscured.

      In the context of on-going internal discussions about the legality of interceptions at sea, Frontex’s internal records reveal the practices deemed acceptable by the agency and their interpretation of international legal obligations. The records provide insight into a vision of border enforcement, crystallised at the boundaries of the global north, that perpetuates the violent securitisation of borders to the detriment of human mobility, dignity and safety. They carve out a space where border control activities are shielded from scrutiny, erasing human rights from the operational script.

      Any comments about this post? Get in touch with us! Send us an email, or post a comment here or on Facebook. You can also tweet us.

      https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/01/validating-border

    • Five migrant pushback claims under scrutiny

      The board of directors of the European border agency Frontex, which met on Wednesday and Thursday, has decided to further investigate five of 13 reported cases of illegal migrants pushbacks last year, with the alleged help of Frontex guards, from Greece into Turkish territorial waters in the eastern Aegean.

      The board deemed that Frontex did not provide the necessary information and clarifications for the five cases under investigation.

      In view of this, the team investigating the claims has been given additional time to complete its work and present its final conclusions to a new extraordinary board meeting scheduled for February 26.

      With regard to the other eight cases, the board said that there is no evidence to confirm any violations. It also accepted that some of these incidents unfolded in Turkish territorial waters, and in others the migrant boats turned back on their own accord.

      https://www.ekathimerini.com/261560/article/ekathimerini/news/five-migrant-pushback-claims-under-scrutiny

    • L’agence européenne Frontex fragilisée par les accusations d’expulsions illégales

      L’agence de surveillance des frontières de l’UE, qui a annoncé qu’elle suspendait ses opérations en Hongrie, est accusée d’avoir participé au « pushback », qui consiste à repousser les migrants sans leur laisser la possibilité de déposer une demande d’asile.
      Accusations d’implication dans des « pushbacks » – des refoulements illégaux de migrants et demandeurs d’asile aux frontières –, enquêtes de l’Office de lutte antifraude de l’Union européenne (UE) et de la Commission de Bruxelles, mise en cause de son directeur, Fabrice Leggeri : l’Agence européenne de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes, Frontex, chargée de surveiller les frontières extérieures de l’UE, traverse de grosses turbulences. Mercredi 27 janvier, elle a même été contrainte d’annoncer qu’elle allait arrêter ses opérations en Hongrie, une première dans l’histoire de cette institution, fondée en 2004.
      « Nos efforts communs pour protéger les frontières extérieures ne peuvent réussir que si nous veillons à ce que notre coopération et nos activités soient pleinement conformes aux lois de l’UE », a expliqué un porte-parole, en critiquant implicitement les pratiques illégales de la police hongroise, auxquelles l’agence européenne participait pourtant depuis la crise des réfugiés de 2015.
      En cause, la pratique du « pushback », systématisée par le premier ministre ultranationaliste, Viktor Orban, et développée ailleurs dans l’Union. Le fait de repousser les migrants arrivés sur le sol européen sans leur laisser la possibilité de déposer une demande d’asile n’a pas été partout aussi clairement assumé qu’en Hongrie, mais la Grèce, la Croatie, l’Italie ou la Slovénie, notamment, ont été mises an cause pour s’être livrées, elles aussi, à cette pratique illégale. Un « Livre noir », épais de 1 500 pages et présenté récemment par un réseau d’ONG, a recensé pas moins de 900 cas de ce type, concernant près de 13 000 personnes.
      Expulsions inhumaines
      Depuis une loi adoptée en 2016, la Hongrie considère, elle, que tous les migrants arrivant sur son sol peuvent être immédiatement renvoyés vers la Serbie voisine. Lorsqu’ils sont arrêtés, après avoir réussi à franchir la clôture que M. Orban a fait construire tout le long de la frontière, ou même à Budapest, les migrants se voient systématiquement refuser de déposer une demande d’asile et sont expulsés sans autre forme de procès, dans des conditions parfois inhumaines.
      Présents à la frontière hongroise depuis 2015, les agents de Frontex ont participé à cette politique, malgré les critiques des organisations non gouvernementales. « La Hongrie est le seul pays à avoir légalisé les “pushbacks” et à les pratiquer aussi ouvertement. La police hongroise publie même des chiffres tous les jours sur le nombre de personnes renvoyées en Serbie », dénonce Andras Lederer, du Comité Helsinki hongrois, une ONG spécialisée dans l’aide aux migrants. Il estime que la Hongrie a pratiqué 50 000 refoulements depuis 2016. A l’issue d’une longue bataille juridique, la Cour de justice de l’Union européenne a estimé, le 17 décembre 2020, que les pratiques hongroises enfreignent les directives régissant le droit d’asile.
      Malgré cet arrêt, le gouvernement de Budapest a refusé de modifier sa législation et a continué ces pratiques. « La Hongrie ne va pas céder devant la pression des forces pro-immigration », affirmait encore le porte-parole du gouvernement, Zoltan Kovacs, jeudi 28 janvier. « Bruxelles veut nous prendre le peu d’aide qu’on avait », a-t-il ajouté en réaction au retrait de Frontex, devenu inéluctable après l’arrêt de la Cour de Luxembourg. Pour M. Lederer, ce retrait est en revanche « bienvenu » : « La Hongrie ne pourra plus se cacher derrière la présence de Frontex pour continuer cette pratique. »
      Violences aux frontières de l’Union
      Avec un contingent censé atteindre 10 000 hommes, un budget pluriannuel passé à 5,6 milliards d’euros et son rôle de gardienne stricte des frontières, en association avec les forces nationales, l’agence dirigée par M. Leggeri est l’une des pièces essentielles de la politique migratoire de l’UE et du « pacte » proposé en 2020 pour la Commission. Sa mise en cause, alors même qu’elle est loin de tourner à plein régime, est de mauvais augure.
      Jeudi 28 janvier, alors que les vingt-sept ministres de l’intérieur, réunis en visioconférence, évoquaient – en présence du directeur de Frontex – le dossier de la migration, l’Agence des Nations unies pour les réfugiés évoquait un droit d’asile « menacé » en Europe et disait recevoir « de nombreux rapports » sur les violences exercées aux frontières de l’Union.
      D’où l’attention toute particulière que porte la commissaire aux affaires intérieures, Ylva Johansson, au dossier des « pushbacks ». La responsable suédoise se satisfait-elle des explications de la direction de Frontex, dont le conseil d’administration affirmait, le 21 janvier, qu’il n’avait pas trouvé de preuves de violation des droits de l’homme dans les cas qu’il a examinés ? « Sur la base des informations fournies », il n’aurait « pu établir de preuves ». Il a toutefois précisé que ses conclusions ne concernaient que certains incidents en Grèce et que des clarifications étaient nécessaires. Cinq cas problématiques de possibles refoulements impliquant Frontex sont encore examinés.
      Jeudi, devant les ministres, Mme Johansson a réclamé « toutes les analyses nécessaires » pour, dit-elle, rétablir la confiance dans l’agence. Elle a aussi évoqué un projet de réforme, incluant la nomination de trois sous-directeurs et la mise en place – enfin – d’un système de surveillance des droits humains.
      Le débat « recule »
      Au-delà du sort de Frontex, la question est de savoir si une définition d’une véritable politique migratoire européenne, avec une refonte des règles de l’asile et une solidarité accrue entre les pays, a une chance de se réaliser. Confirmant que le débat sur le « pacte » élaboré par la Commission « n’a pas beaucoup avancé », le secrétaire d’Etat belge à la migration, Sammy Mahdi, déclarait, jeudi, au quotidien La Libre Belgique qu’il fallait le rendre « rationnel ». Pour sortir les discussions de l’ornière, pour vérifier que la proposition de la Commission est opérationnelle et, enfin, pour que chacun annonce vraiment ses intentions, M. Mahdi propose « une simulation » : sur la base des chiffres de l’année 2019, chaque pays préciserait ce qu’il pourrait accomplir concernant l’accueil, la solidarité, le financement des infrastructures d’accueil aux frontières, etc.
      Un communiqué du secrétaire d’Etat évoquait une possible évolution de la Hongrie et de ses partenaires du groupe de Visegrad, à condition que soit satisfaite leur revendication (très floue) d’une solidarité « flexible ». Un participant à la réunion de jeudi faisait preuve de moins de conviction : « Faire avancer le débat ? Mais il recule ! » Vétéran des conseils européens sur la migration, le ministre luxembourgeois Jean Asselborn n’est pas loin de confirmer : « Nous sommes sans doute tous d’accord sur les contrôles aux frontières extérieures ou sur les retours. Mais pas sur la manière de respecter les droits humains des demandeurs d’asile, sur les relocalisations obligatoires ou sur l’impératif de solidarité » entre les pays européens. Les Etats prêts à respecter ces principes se compteraient, en effet, désormais sur les doigts d’une main.

      https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2021/01/29/l-agence-europeenne-frontex-fragilisee-par-les-accusations-d-expulsions-ille

    • Refoulement de migrants : « Frontex se retranche toujours derrière ses États hôtes » (Migreurop)

      L’agence de surveillance des frontières de l’UE, a annoncé qu’elle suspendait ses opérations en Hongrie après une décision de la Cour de justice européenne critiquant le système d’asile de ce pays. L’Office européen de lutte antifraude enquête de son côté sur la gouvernance de l’agence par son directeur exécutif, Fabrice Leggeri dont plusieurs eurodéputés demandent la démission. Frontex a-t-elle participé à des opérations de « pushback », initiées par la Hongrie, qui consistent à repousser des migrants arrivés sur le sol européen sans leur laisser la possibilité de déposer une demande d’asile ? Le décryptage de Brijitte Espuche, co-coordinatrice du réseau Migreurop.

      https://www.rfi.fr/fr/podcasts/invit%C3%A9-international/20210129-refoulement-de-migrants-frontex-se-retranche-toujours-derri%C3%A8re-ses

    • Frontex: Management Board pushes back against secrecy proposals in preliminary report

      Statewatch is publishing the preliminary report of the working group set up by the agency’s Management Board following allegations of involvement in pushbacks from Turkey to Greece. Amongst other things, the report indicates that Frontex has proposed labelling Serious Incident Reports as EU Classified Information, which would reduce transparency and, in turn, accountability.

      https://www.statewatch.org/news/2021/february/frontex-management-board-pushes-back-against-secrecy-proposals-in-prelim

    • Scandals Plunge Europe’s Border Agency into Turmoil

      Accusations of workplace harassment, mismanagement and financial irregularities have led to chaos at Europe’s border agency. The allegations weigh heavily on Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri.

      The men and women who are part of Europe’s new elite border force meet every morning at 9 a.m. for a video conference that is viewed on screens in countries like Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria and Albania. The Frontex officials usually discuss migration movements and human trafficking, But since the beginning of January, the internal meetings have focused primarily on low morale within the team.

      "Do something at last, or soon no one will work here anymore,” one border guard warned in one of the calls. The policemen and women who regularly complain about their woes are the European Union’s first dedicated border guards. They’re part of Frontex’s standing corps.

      For months now, Frontex, the EU’s border protection agency, and its head Fabrice Leggeri, have been embroiled in a series of scandals. Frontex has been accused of being involved in illegal repatriations of refugees at Europe’s external borders, workplace harassment and a possible case of fraud linked to the agency. Now the crisis has also reached the standing corps, the border management agency’s prestige project.

      Frontex plans to deploy up to 10,000 border guards to the EU’s external borders in the coming years. The civil servants were promised brand new equipment and EU jobs with lavish salaries and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen personally pushed for the creation of the standing corps. The stars of the EU flag sparkle on the sleeves of the new dark blue uniforms worn by the reserves.

      The job may sound glamorous on paper, but it is anything but in the countries where the reserve guards have been deployed, like Greece, Croatia and Albania. Several officers have told DER SPIEGEL of a shortage of agency vehicles, such that expensive SUVs must be rented instead — with officers allegedly even having to pay for gas themselves in some cases. They claim that expenses weren’t reimbursed for bureaucratic reasons, and that parts of the new uniforms were missing and had to be bought by the border guards themselves.

      The officers should be out hunting down criminals and catching smugglers, but Category 1 officers, who are directly employed by Frontex, so far haven’t been allowed to carry weapons because the agency failed to provide the legal basis for doing so in time. The result is that the border guards, supposedly members of an elite European force, have to be escorted on every one of their patrols by national security forces.

      When contacted by DER SPIEGEL, Frontex also said that the pandemic has created additional challenges for deploying the force, but things are back on track again. Yet the agency’s own officers don’t see it that way. It’s a "Potemkin reserve,” scoffs one. "It’s not worth it,” says another officer, who is thinking about quitting.

      The establishment of the standing corps is one of the EU’s most important migration policy projects. The purpose is to control irregular immigration. But now the European Commission and the member states must stand by and watch as it becomes the focus of ridicule.

      The fiasco over the standing corps has become emblematic of an agency that has been falling short of public expectations for years, and of an agency head who is accumulating more and more power but doesn’t seem to know how to use it correctly.

      Under Leggeri, Frontex has stumbled from one scandal to the next. Last autumn, DER SPIEGEL, together with international media partners, first reported that Frontex forces in the Aegean Sea were involved in illegal repatriations of refugees, which are called pushbacks. The Frontex Management Board is investigating the allegations and the EU Ombudsman has opened an inquiry. Leggeri himself is apparently obstructing the investigations.

      In January, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) announced it had launched an investigation into Frontex. Leggeri claims that the investigators are looking into the pushback reports and that he cannot provide any further comment. But DER SPIEGEL has found in its reporting that the accusations go much further. The investigation involves a possible case of fraud involving a service provider, allegations of workplace harassment and whether information was withheld from the agency’s fundamental rights officer, whose job is to monitor Frontex’s adherence to basic human rights laid out in EU charters, conventions and international law. Internal documents suggest that Leggeri’s entire leadership style is under scrutiny.

      What happened? How could the authority charged with protecting the EU’s external borders descend into such chaos? And what does it all mean for the EU’s migration policy?

      DER SPIEGEL, the media organization Lighthouse Reports and the French newspaper Libération interviewed nearly a dozen current and former Frontex officials in the reporting of this story. Most insisted that their names not be mentioned in the story for fear that they could lose their jobs. Leggeri, for his part, rejected an interview request.

      When combined with internal documents that DER SPIEGEL and its partners were able to view, the insiders’ reports paint a picture of an agency in turmoil.

      France Télécom: How Leggeri seized power at Frontex

      The headquarters of Frontex are located in an office complex in Warsaw’s Wola district, not far from the city center. For years, only a few officials worked here compiling reports on migration routes. Actual border guards were borrowed from national police forces.

      But the agency has grown from a budget of just over 6 million euros in 2005 to 460 million euros in 2020. By 2027, Europe’s taxpayers will have provided 5.6 billion euros in funding to the agency.

      Frontex now has its own border guards, called the standing corps, in addition to aircraft and drones that will soon be complemented by unmanned airships that will provide surveillance as they circle over the Aegean Sea. Frontex’s rise has had a lot to do with Leggeri, the man who has done more than anyone else to shape the agency.

      Leggeri, 52, was born in Mulhouse, in France’s Alsace region, and speaks fluent German. He studied at the École Nationale d’Administration in Strasbourg, a university that has long produced the French elite. Starting in 2013, he worked at the Interior Ministry in Paris in the department for irregular immigration. At the time, the government advocated for Frontex’s expansion, and two years later, Leggeri was named head of the agency.

      Colleagues describe Leggeri as a technocrat. At a Christmas party once, the team gathered around and he began talking with great pathos about the achievements of the "Frontex family.” But Leggeri was reading from his notepad. "It seemed like the whole things was out of his league,” recalled one audience member.

      During the course of Frontex’s expansion, Leggeri tailored the agency to precisely fit his needs. He expanded his cabinet, filling many important posts with fellow French compatriots.

      Frontex workers say Leggeri is on rarely seen in the hallways, and that all important decisions are made by a small inner circle. They describe him as being a control freak, with some former staffers even going so far as to call him a "dictator.” Leggeri "runs the agency like it’s a sub-prefecture,” says someone who has worked with him for a long time. "You may be able to run a French ministry that way, but not an international organization.”

      Frontex staffers have taken to calling Leggeri’s cabinet "France Télécom” when the bosses aren’t around. It’s a reference to the scandal at the French telecommunications authority, which involved systematic bullying and harassment so bad that it drove a number of employees to commit suicide.

      The resentment felt by many Frontex staffers is largely directed at one of Leggeri’s closest confidants: Thibauld de La Haye Jousselin. The Frenchman comes from an aristocratic family from southern France. He once worked for Bernard Carayon, a member of the French parliament, who used to be part of a far-right student union. De La Haye Jousselin is a reserve officer in the French army and has a thing for the military and uniforms. “De La Haye Jousselin is clearly on the right politically,” says someone who has known him for years. Now, he serves Leggeri as the head of his cabinet.

      Insiders say that de La Haye Jousselin leads with an iron fist, and that he is quick to lose his temper. Employees claim he insults people and engages in disrespectful behavior. The agency stated that Frontex has not received any official complaints about de La Haye Jousselin and also claimed that no cabinet member has been hired solely on the basis of their nationality. De La Haye Jousselin dismissed the accusations as "false and baseless.”

      But the behavior of Leggeri and his cabinet chief has consequences. Dissent seems to be frowned upon. And this is likely one of the reasons internal control mechanisms at the agency are becoming less effective.

      Inmaculada Arnáez has more than 20 years of experience in human rights issues. The Spanish lawyer has worked for the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and she has been with Frontex since 2012. As the fundamental rights officer, she is supposed to operate independently of the executive director in her job as the agency’s internal watchdog. But when Leggeri took the helm in 2015, she quickly became aware of how little concern the new leader apparently had for human rights.

      Former Frontex employees report that Arnáez was left out in the cold. "We felt like Leggeri just bypassed her.” They claim that human rights had never been his priority.

      The final break between Leggeri and Arnáez came when the European Parliament granted the fundamental rights commissioner more powers in 2019. Arnáez was to be assisted by 40 human rights observers, which would have enabled her office to conduct its own investigations at Europe’s external borders. Apparently that was unthinkable for Leggeri.

      On Nov. 19, 2019, just as Arnáez was returning from an extended illness, the Frontex chief publicly advertised her position. In doing so, Leggeri had also bypassed the Frontex Management Board, since such a job posting requires the board’s approval. He had informed Arnáez only a short time before. In a written assessment obtained by DER SPIEGEL, the European Commission states that Leggeri’s move had been "plain and simply unlawful” and "could be considered as an attempt to discredit or weaken” Arnáez.

      The Commission forced Leggeri to withdraw the job posting. But the Frontex chief didn’t give up. He claimed Arnáez had to be replaced because she doesn’t have enough management experience to lead 40 employees.

      It seems likely, though, that the Frontex chief was mainly bothered by Arnáez because of her advocacy for human rights. Arnáez has repeatedly warned Leggeri against breaking the law. Colleagues say that she believed in the power of her reports. She regularly informed Leggeri about human rights violations in the Aegean Sea and recommended that he abandon the mission in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán legalized pushbacks in 2016.

      Leggeri ignored the fundamental rights officer’s reports and continued the operation in the Aegean Sea. He only withdrew his officers from Hungary a few weeks ago after a ruling by the European Court of Justice forced him to do so. When contacted for comment, Leggeri stated that he had always valued working together with Arnáez. He added that management experience is needed in the post because of the sharp increase in the budget.

      Leggeri still hasn’t hired the 40 human rights monitors to this day. When grilled by the European Parliament, Leggeri blamed the European Commission for the delays. European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, who is responsible for the portfolio that includes Frontex, then accused him of having misled parliament.

      Arnáez has been on medical leave again since last March. The Frontex Management Board replaced her on an interim basis with Annegret Kohler, a German national who had previously worked in Leggeri’s cabinet. "It’s a clear conflict of interest,” says a Frontex official.
      The Pushback Affair: How Frontex Covered Up Human Rights Violations

      The walls of the Frontex Situation Centre are covered in monitors, with surveillance planes and satellites transmitting real-time images from border regions. From their desks, Frontex officers can closely monitor events taking place on the edges of Europe. “You can see how many people are sitting in a refugee boat,” says someone who knows the room well.

      A collection of images that appeared on screens here on the night of April 18-19, 2020, continue to occupy members of European Parliament until today. They come from a Frontex surveillance plane flying over the Aegean, according to several internal Frontex reports that DER SPIEGEL has obtained.

      Shortly before midnight, Greek border patrol officers intercepted a rubber dinghy just north of the island of Lesbos and transferred the 20 to 30 refugees onboard their ship. According to prevailing law, they should have then brought the asylum-seekers to Lesbos, where they could apply for asylum. Instead, though, they put the refugees back into the dinghy and then towed them back toward Turkey.

      Greek officials in the coordination center in Piraeus ordered the Frontex pilots to change course away from the dinghy. The Frontex team leader asked if there was a particular reason for the change in course. “Negative,” came the response from the Greeks.

      At 3:15 a.m., the Frontex plane began running low on fuel. The pilot took one last image, which showed the refugees alone at sea, a few hundred meters from the Turkish coast. No Turkish units were in the area, the pilot reported. The dinghy, he reported, had no motor and the Greek Coast Guard had sailed off. The refugees, including four children, were only rescued the next morning at 6:52 a.m. by the Turkish Navy.

      The Greek Coast Guard has been systematically conducting pushbacks for several months. They stop refugee boats in Greek territorial waters and sometimes destroy their motors before then towing them back toward Turkey. “Aggressive surveillance,” is the official term the government in Athens has come up with to describe the practice. In fact, it is illegal.

      Frontex regulations require Leggeri to suspend missions when he learns of rights violations of a serious nature or that are likely to persist. His forces, after all, are supposed to protect human rights. But Leggeri insists that he has no reliable information about pushbacks in his possession – despite the fact that DER SPIEGEL and its reporting partners have exhaustively documented how Frontex units were nearby during at least seven illegal pushback operations.

      During their operations, Frontex personnel are under the command of Greek border officials. Already last March, a Greek liaison officer ordered a Danish Frontex unit to abandon a group of intercepted refugees at sea, according to internal emails that DER SPIEGEL has reviewed. Nevertheless, Frontex decided nothing was wrong and closed the matter within a day. Later, in testimony he delivered before the European Parliament, Leggeri claimed the incident had merely been a misunderstanding.

      The pushback that took place off Lesbos in the night of April 18-19 was exhaustively documented by Frontex officers themselves. There is a strong belief “that presented facts support an allegation of possible violation of Fundamental Rights or international protection obligations such as the principle of non-refoulement,” reads an internal Frontex report that DER SPIEGEL has obtained.

      The case was apparently so sensitive that Leggeri took personal control over the investigation and did not, as was standard procedure, delegate it to his Fundamental Rights Officer. On May 8, he wrote to Ioannis Plakiotakis, the Greek minister of maritime affairs, a letter that DER SPIEGEL has obtained. In it, Leggeri voiced his concern and requested an internal investigation. The observance of human rights, particularly the principle of non-refoulement, is an “ultimate requirement” of the Frontex mission, he wrote.

      The answer from the Greek government is a smorgasbord of attempts to explain it away. Migration flows in the Aegean represent a “hybrid nature threat,” the response reads. Because of the corona crisis, it continues, it is more important than ever to prevent illegal border crossings and none of the migrants had requested asylum. According to an initial assessment by Greek officials, the letter claims, none of those on board were in particular need of protection.

      Legal experts see the Greek response as worthless. “The Greek Coast Guard without a doubt committed a human rights violation in the case,” says Dana Schmalz, an international law expert with the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg. From her perspective, it is a clear case of an illegal pushback. It is impossible, she says, to determine if someone needs protection or if they are faced with danger back in Turkey on board a rickety dinghy. Individual proceedings conducted on land are necessary to make such a determination, she says. Furthermore, she continues, the Greek Coast Guard put the migrants’ lives in danger by abandoning them at sea in a dinghy without a motor.

      But Leggeri was satisfied with the report. The verdict: There was no pushback, there were no human rights violations. The head of Frontex silently buried the incident. “There have been several occasions when Leggeri has not provided us with adequate information,” says Tineke Strik, a member of European Parliament from the Netherlands.

      When reached for comment, Frontex said the Greek government had not ascertained any human rights violations. The agency has to rely on national authorities to investigate such incidents, Frontex insisted, since it is not authorized to undertake such investigations itself.

      Frontex officials are actually required to report incidents where they suspect that human rights violations may have occurred, so-called “Serious Incident Reports.” But such reports are hardly ever written. For years, Frontex officials have followed the example of their boss Leggeri: When in doubt, keep quiet.

      Insiders describe the rules as a kind of omertà, a code of silence. Hardly anyone is willing to risk their career or cause problems for their host country. In one case, an official even tried to prevent a Swedish colleague from submitting a Serious Incident Report, the head of Swedish border control told the Frontex Management Board.

      A German federal police officer is one of the few willing to dissent, though he has asked that we not publish his real name. On Nov. 28, 2020, his first day on a Frontex mission on the Greek island of Samos, an article from DER SPIEGEL popped up on his mobile phone. The story was about the Uckermark, the ship on which he was scheduled to serve that very evening. The article reported that the Germans had stopped a refugee boat on August 10 and handed it over to the Greek Coast Guard, which then proceeded to abandon the refugees at sea.

      The federal policeman went to his commanding officer and said he couldn’t participate in such operations and essentially said he didn’t want to be an accessory to any legal transgressions. Later, he sent an explanation around to his comrades via WhatsApp: “I have decided for me personally that I cannot tolerate the measures taken by the Greeks and certainly cannot support them.”

      His commanding officer responded a few minutes later: “The fact is that our actions are legal! Covered by the Frontex mandate.” He apparently was referring to the requirement to obey orders from the Greek Coast Guard.

      The German Federal Police does not contradict the man’s account, but when contacted, the force denied having taken part in any legal violations. The policeman himself, however, had a different view of the situation. He refused to take part in the mission, preferring instead to stay on land. He says he will never again volunteer to take part in a Frontex mission.

      Dodgy Business: How Leggeri Landed in the Sights of the European Anti-Fraud Office

      The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) always gets involved when there are suspicions that EU financial interests have been violated. And recently, OLAF opened an investigation into Frontex. On Dec. 7, OLAF officials searched Frontex headquarters in Warsaw, including the offices belonging to Leggeri and to Head of Cabinet Thibauld de La Haye Jousselin.

      Leggeri has yet to comment publicly on the investigation. According to members of the German parliament, the Bundestag, Leggeri testified before the Committee on Internal Affairs in January in Berlin and said that the inquiry had to do with the pushback accusations and that he couldn’t say any more. That, though, is at best only half true.

      DER SPIEGEL has learned that the investigation has a much broader scope than that. For weeks, OLAF officials have been summoning witnesses and interrogating Frontex staff members.

      One focus of the investigation is apparently a possible case of fraud. A Polish IT company sold the agency a business software solution that cost hundreds of thousands of euros, in part for the training of border guards. Frontex employees complained to their superiors, however, that the software didn’t work well. But the agency nevertheless paid most of the negotiated purchase price. According to documentation DER SPEIGEL has seen, employees informed management in 2018 that the inconsistencies in the case could amount to fraud.

      Leggeri, too, learned of the allegations, and an internal investigation was undertaken. “But according to EU regulations, the Frontex director is required to immediately report potential cases of fraud to OLAF,” says Valentina Azarova of the Manchester International Law Centre. Frontex declined to comment on the OLAF investigation. The Polish software company in question insisted that it has thus far correctly fulfilled all of its contractual obligations to Frontex. And the company is still getting contracts from the European border agency, some of them worth millions.

      The OLAF investigators are also apparently interested in suspicions of workplace harassment at Frontex. They hope to find out if Leggeri or his head of cabinet have yelled at or otherwise harassed agency employees. They are also investigating whether staff members were ordered to withhold information from Fundamental Rights Officer Arnáez and her successor – and if so, by whom.

      OLAF emphasizes that the presumption of innocence still applies, despite the inquiry, explaining that the existence of the investigation offers no proof that anything untoward took place. But there are apparently serious indications of personal misconduct on the part of Leggeri. The collection of questions being asked by investigators indicate significant doubts about his leadership style.

      In Brussels, some refer to Leggeri as “Fabrice Teflon,” with the Frontex boss having thus far survived despite accusations of mismanagement and allegations that his agency was involved in pushbacks. Now, though, the pressure has been cranked up.

      European Commissioner Johansson has more or less made it clear that she no longer considers Leggeri to be tenable in his position. “It has been difficult to keep track of the missteps,” says a high-ranking Commission official. “The priority must be on the long-term reputation of the agency. But it has been hard to reconcile recent actions with that aim.”

      It is not, however, up to the European Commission to decide Leggeri’s fate. That is a decision that must be made by the Frontex Management Board. The board is essentially made up of representatives from those countries that are part of the Schengen Area, with the Commission having just two deputies on the board. EU member states have always thrown their support behind Leggeri in the past. And many of them are likely pleased by the occasionally ruthless methods employed by Frontex to prevent asylum-seekers from crossing into the EU, believes Giulia Laganà, a migration expert with the Open Society European Policy Institute.

      The question is whether the Management Board will continue to back Leggeri once the accusations of workplace harassment and even potential fraud are made public. The European Parliament has already announced its intention to conduct a four-month inquiry into the agency, with the investigation’s mandate having been kept intentionally broad. Leggeri’s leadership style and the workplace atmosphere at Frontex are to be included in the inquiry.

      Even Leggeri’s own staff members in Warsaw have begun wondering how long their boss will continue to cling to his post. “OLAF is onto us, morale is down,” says one official. “I wonder why he doesn’t just leave.”

      https://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/missteps-and-mismanagement-at-frontex-scandals-plunge-europe-s-border-agency

    • Frontex, l’Agence européenne de garde-frontières, à nouveau mise en cause pour ses liens avec des lobbyistes

      Premier corps armé en uniforme de l’Union européenne, l’organisme n’aurait pas déclaré ses liens avec des lobbyistes de l’industrie de la surveillance et de l’armement.

      De nouvelles accusations contre Frontex ont été lancées, vendredi 5 février, par la chaîne publique allemande ZDF, laquelle a, avec la collaboration de l’ONG Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), mené une enquête sur les liens entre l’Agence européenne de garde-frontières et l’industrie de la surveillance et de l’armement.

      Des dizaines de documents, auxquels Le Monde a également eu accès, démontrent des infractions aux règles des institutions européennes sur le lobbying, un défaut de transparence et une absence quasi complète de préoccupation pour le respect des droits humains. Ce dernier point était déjà au cœur d’un débat récent sur le rôle du corps européen dans des « pushbacks », des refoulements illégaux de migrants, en Grèce et en Hongrie notamment.

      Dotée d’un budget en forte hausse (6 millions d’euros lors de sa création en 2005, 460 millions en 2020, 5,6 milliards prévus pour 2021-2027) et d’un effectif qui devrait atteindre 10 000 personnes à terme, Frontex, premier corps armé en uniforme de l’Union européenne (UE), effectue actuellement des missions de sauvetage et de surveillance, en appui des forces nationales. Elle lutte aussi contre divers trafics et participe aux expulsions des migrants irréguliers.

      Mais l’agence est, en réalité, en train de devenir un véritable corps de police appelé à se doter de nombreux équipements : armes, radars, drones, systèmes de vérification des documents et de reconnaissance faciale, véhicules, avions, etc.
      Profiter des opportunités

      Devient-elle, du même coup, une sorte d’acteur du secteur de la sécurité et de l’armement ? Et échappe-t-elle au contrôle démocratique, celui du Parlement européen notamment, qui, en 2019, exigeait de l’institution dirigée par le Français Fabrice Leggeri la mise au point d’un « registre transparence », conforme aux pratiques des autres institutions de l’UE ? Ce sont les questions posées par les investigateurs de la ZDF et de CEO, qui ont examiné les dernières années de fonctionnement de l’institution installée à Varsovie.

      Le registre, qui était réclamé par les eurodéputés, devait notamment recenser l’ensemble des réunions tenues avec des représentants des entreprises. Il est « en préparation », dit-on chez Frontex. Et il ne devrait pas satisfaire les attentes : en 2018 et 2019, indiquent des documents de CEO, 91 des 125 lobbyistes reçus par Frontex (soit 72 %) n’étaient pas inscrits au registre européen de la transparence, comme le veulent pourtant les règles fixées pour les institutions de l’UE.

      Idem pour 58 % des entreprises consultées. Sur une application créée pour centraliser les demandes de contacts, aucune demande ne leur est d’ailleurs formulée quant à leur inscription dans ce registre. Etonnamment, le service de presse de Frontex affirme de son côté que l’agence « ne rencontre pas de lobbyistes ».

      Il semble évident, pourtant, que le secteur de la défense entend profiter des opportunités offertes par le développement des missions et des moyens de l’agence. Le programme Horizon 2020 avait déjà affecté 118 millions d’euros au développement de la recherche en lien avec le projet de « Sécurité aux frontières extérieures » de l’UE. Un fonds avait, lui, été doté de 2,8 milliards d’euros pour la période 2018-2020. Et la nécessité d’équiper Frontex a évidemment aiguisé un peu plus les appétits des acteurs du marché mondial du « border control », qui enfle de 8 % chaque année et frôle désormais les 20 milliards d’euros.
      « Surveillance agressive »

      L’agence dirigée par M. Leggeri est-elle sortie de son rôle en s’arrogeant un statut d’intermédiaire de fait entre l’industrie et des institutions européennes soucieuses de conjurer à tout prix le risque de nouveaux flux migratoires ? Serait-elle, même, devenue un acteur qui entend stimuler cette industrie, voire lui confier les rênes d’une politique à vocation essentiellement sécuritaire ?

      Avec son objectif de « faciliter la coopération entre les autorités de contrôle aux frontières, la recherche et l’industrie », Frontex a, en tout cas, multiplié les congrès, les rencontres et les « ateliers » où grands patrons, hauts fonctionnaires, mais aussi délégués des Etats membres échangent beaucoup. Sur des questions de technologie, de sécurité, de « surveillance agressive », mais rarement de droits humains.

      Déjà mise en cause pour avoir tardé à mettre en place un service interne chargé de la surveillance du respect des droits fondamentaux des migrants, l’agence n’aurait, en effet, presque jamais consulté le « Forum des droits fondamentaux » constitué à cette fin. Une organisation qui était membre du forum indique d’ailleurs n’avoir aucun souvenir d’un quelconque échange sur la question des droits et des libertés dans le cadre du lancement d’appels d’offres.

      « La protection des droits humains est un sujet trop important pour le sacrifier à la défense des intérêts de l’industrie », notent les responsables de l’ONG Corporate Europe Observatory

      Parmi les participants à des réunions, on a noté, en revanche, la présence de représentants de pays très critiqués pour leur politique à l’égard des migrants, comme la Bosnie-Herzégovine ou l’Australie. Des responsables du département américain de la Homeland Security ont été également conviés.

      « Les conclusions de tout cela sont extrêmement préoccupantes », notent les responsables de CEO. Ils déplorent une politique migratoire qui risque de reposer seulement sur une force de police armée et des techniques comme la surveillance biométrique. « La protection des droits humains est un sujet trop important pour le sacrifier à la défense des intérêts de l’industrie », relèvent-ils.

      « Nous vivons une métamorphose du rôle de Frontex. Il faut en prendre la mesure et s’y habituer », affirmait, vendredi, M. Leggeri, interrogé par Europe 1. On ne sait pas si Ylva Johansson, la commissaire européenne aux affaires intérieures, qui demande que la confiance en Frontex soit « entièrement rétablie », approuvera totalement ce propos.

      https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2021/02/05/nouvelles-accusations-contre-frontex-l-agence-europeenne-des-gardes-frontier

    • PUSHBACK REPORT 2020

      VIOLENCE IS INCREASING – IN #2020 MARE LIBERUM COUNTED AT LEAST 9,000 PEOPLE ILLEGALLY PUSHED BACK

      #Mare_Liberum monitors the current human rights situation in the Aegean Sea using its own ships. As independent observers, we conduct research in order to document and publicise circumstances at the European border. Since March 2020, Mare Liberum has witnessed a dramatic increase in human rights violations in the Aegean, both at sea and on land. Illegal pushbacks, in which those fleeing and migrating people are pushed back across a national border, play an especially crucial role. Over the past year in particular, pushbacks have become an inhumane everyday reality for people on the move. Pushbacks happen almost daily at the Greek-Turkish border and in 2020 alone, we counted 321 pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, with some 9,798 people pushed back.

      Although pushbacks have demonstrably been carried out at the EU’s external border for years, media attention has now increased notably, especially in recent months. News magazines such as Der Spiegel and the research collective Bellingcat have been able to publicly demonstrate how the Hellenic Coast Guard forcibly pushes those seeking protection back to Turkey, thereby violating international, European and national law. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex, as has become all too clear, not only turns a blind eye to illegal repatriation operations, but rather actively and systematically participates.

      Within the framework of the annual report, we seek to adopt a perspective on pushbacks that looks at the long-term development of these practices at the EU’s external border. The comprehensive documentation of pushbacks forms the basis of the report and is an essential part of our monitoring work in the Aegean. Beyond the mere counting of pushbacks, our work also includes the collection of relevant information on the persons affected by pushbacks, practices by the responsible actors and related geographical data. We have gained deeper insights into these issues by conducting interviews with people who have themselves been pushed back at the Greek-Turkish border.

      https://mare-liberum.org/en/pushback-report

    • NEW REPORT ON CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY IN THE AEGEAN

      Since March 2020, collective expulsions in the Aegean Sea have been perpetrated with impunity.

      Legal Centre Lesvos’ new report contributes to the growing body of evidence, media coverage, civil society reports and other investigations which have documented how Greek authorities are deliberately and systematically abandoning hundreds of migrants in the middle of the Aegean sea, without means to call for rescue, on unseaworthy, motorless dinghies and liferafts. It is intended to serve as a resource for survivors of collective expulsions and solidarity actors.

      Following the Legal Centre Lesvos’ first report, the present report is based on evidence shared by over fifty survivors of collective expulsions, and underscores the widespread, systematic and violent nature of this attack against migrants. Beyond being egregious violations of international, European and national human rights law, this report argues that the constituent elements of the modus operandi of collective expulsions in the Aegean amount to crimes against humanity within the definition of Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

      Despite overwhelming evidence of collective expulsions in the Aegean, the national and European response has been to turn a blind eye: failing to even attempt to hold the responsible Greek authorities to account, let alone other public and private actors directly or indirectly involved. On the contrary, the European Commission has praised the violent “border and migration management” practices implemented in Greece and underwritten its support with substantial financial and material assistance. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic which prevented Greece carrying out “official” deportations to Turkey, collective expulsions have conveniently served as an unofficial implementation of the “EU-Turkey Deal” and other bilateral “readmission” agreements with Turkey, which form part of fortress Europe’s border externalisation drive.

      There are only so many times legal and civil society actors can list and table such human rights violations and be met with deafening silence and inaction before this itself becomes evidence of Greek and European liability for collective expulsions as an egregious attack on migrants’ lives. Such inaction also reveals how migrants’ lives are increasingly treated as disposable, in a manner that has historically accompanied the commission of atrocity crimes.

      While the systematic violence of pushbacks in the Aegean is scandalous, it is also the logical endpoint of a dehumanising and punitive European border regime that has systematically obstructed access to territory and the right to asylum by prioritising and funding the ‘hotspot’ containment system, accelerated procedures, detention, deportations, border militarisation and externalisation through deals of questionable legality with third countries; as well as by prosecuting migrants and solidarity actors in a manner that successfully obscures Europe’s own violent, imperialist role in many of the reasons people migrate.

      The absence of serious investigations, let alone practical steps to redress violations are a clear sign that collective expulsions form part of a Greek and European migration policy: instrumentalising human suffering in acts of spectacular state violence for the purpose of deterring migration, at any cost.

      In this context, it is important to ask what justice might look like for survivors of crimes against humanity in the Aegean, many of whom experience ongoing psychological trauma and distress as a result of these crimes. Survivors who have been in contact with the Legal Centre Lesvos have spoken about justice in terms of being able to safely reach Europe. Justice for collective expulsions as crimes against humanity must therefore include safe and legal routes to Europe, as well as defunding, demilitarising and dismantling Europe’s violent border regime.

      https://legalcentrelesvos.org/2021/02/01/crimesagainstumanityintheaegean

      #crimes_contre_l'humanité

      pour télécharger le rapport :
      legalcentrelesvos.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Collective-Expulsions-in-the-Aegean-LCL-01.02.2021-1.pdf

    • UE : Frontex accusée d’incarner l’« Europe forteresse »

      Soupçons de refoulements illégaux de migrants et de bafouement des droits fondamentaux, l’agence Frontex est dans la tourmente. Au point de diviser la Commission européenne.

      C’est potentiellement ce que les Anglo-Saxons appellent la « tempête parfaite », la « poly polémique » qui couve chez Frontex, l’Agence européenne de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes.

      Entre les accusations de fermer les yeux ou de participer à des refoulements illégaux de migrants, l’enquête de l’Office anti-fraude sur des allégations de harcèlement et d’inconduite ayant poussé des responsables à quitter l’agence ou l’absence, à ce jour, de recrutement des quarante agents chargés de veiller au respect des droits fondamentaux, Frontex accumule les tuiles.

      Après l’enquête de la médiatrice européenne, qui s’est aussi penchée sur son cas, c’est le Parlement européen qui s’en mêle. Outre la mise en place d’un « groupe d’enquête permanent », les eurodéputés ont aussi refusé, fin de la semaine dernière, d’octroyer « la décharge budgétaire » à l’agence, nous explique l’élue belge Saskia Bricmont (Ecolo). « Chaque année, le Parlement a un pouvoir de contrôle budgétaire. Donner la décharge, cela signifie qu’on considère que Frontex a accompli ses missions, a respecté le cadre légal et a donc droit au budget suivant », explique-t-elle. En commission des libertés civiles, de la justice et des affaires intérieures, les eurodéputés ont donc décidé de reporter de six mois cette décharge, une décision qui doit être validée en plénière mais que « tous les groupes politiques » soutiennent, ajoute l’élue. D’ici là, il est principalement attendu de Frontex qu’elle recrute les agents chargés de défendre en interne les droits fondamentaux.
      Mandat et budget élargis

      Depuis cinq ans, le mandat de l’agence a été élargi considérablement. Ses effectifs multipliés. En 2016, Frontex se félicitait du fait qu’elle emploierait 1500 agents à l’horizon 2020. Elle devrait être à 10.000 d’ici 2027, pour un budget de plus de cinq milliards sur sept ans, contre une enveloppe annuelle de 19 millions il y a quinze ans.

      Newsletter Repensons notre quotidien

      Infos positives, bons plans, solutions... Chaque dimanche, place aux initiatives qui peuvent changer votre quotidien.

      Car pour Fabrice Leggeri, le patron de Frontex, les critiques trouvent bien leur source dans ce renforcement des pouvoirs de l’agence. « Pour la première fois, une agence cesse d’être un objet simplement administratif européen, mais a du personnel sur le terrain. C’est une responsabilité d’autant plus grande que nous avons l’usage de la force, sous l’autorité et le contrôle des Etats, et qu’il y a bien sûr des contrepoids, les droits fondamentaux. C’est tout à fait normal que cela suscite des réactions, parce que c’est inhabituel », a-t-il expliqué la semaine dernière lors d’un événement organisé par la Fondation Robert Schuman. « Il peut y avoir des retards de mise en œuvre de certaines choses, tout ne sera certainement pas parfait. Il faut utiliser cette période où il y a beaucoup de questionnements sur l’agence pour expliquer, faire de la pédagogie », a-t-il ajouté.

      A ses côtés, le vice-président de la commission en charge de la Promotion du mode de vie européen, Margaritis Schinas, a évoqué la tentative de « quelques milieux » de bâtir « un narratif qui affaiblit Frontex au moment où nous avons le plus besoin de l’agence. Ça, je ne l’accepterai jamais ». Un ton qui contraste avec celui de sa collègue aux Affaires intérieures, Ylva Johansson, qui a démenti fin janvier les explications données par Leggeri pour justifier le retard de l’embauche des 40 agents pour les droits fondamentaux.

      Selon le quotidien français Le Monde, François Xavier-Bellamy, chef de la délégation Les Républicains au sein du groupe du Parti populaire européen (PPE, conservateurs) du Parlement européen, a écrit à Ylva Johansson en évoquant de sa part une tentative de déstabilisation voire de procès politique envers Fabrice Leggeri.
      Pas en ligne sur le lobbying

      S’ajoutent à tout cela les accusations de relations troubles avec l’industrie de l’armement et de la biométrie (par exemple, la reconnaissance faciale), étudiées de long en large par l’ONG Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) le mois dernier. Cette dernière estime que l’élargissement des compétences de Frontex et son besoin d’équipement neuf (y compris en matière de défense) ont été une aubaine pour ces industries.

      Entre 2017 et 2019, Frontex a rencontré pas moins de 108 entreprises pour discuter d’armes à feu et de munitions, d’équipements de surveillance etc. Contre dix think tanks, 15 universités et seulement une ONG. Dans les procès-verbaux de ces réunions obtenus par CEO grâce à des demandes d’accès aux documents, elle a pu constater que les droits fondamentaux figuraient rarement à l’agenda. « Sans surprise, il y a des chevauchements significatifs entre les entreprises qui font du lobbying à Frontex et celles qui bénéficient le plus des marchés publics » de l’agence, explique l’ONG.

      En outre, l’agence ne publie pas toutes ses rencontres et voit majoritairement (72 %) des représentants du privé qui ne sont pas enregistrés dans le registre de transparence de l’UE. Frontex s’en est défendu en répondant qu’elle ne faisait pas l’objet de lobbying, compte tenu du fait qu’elle n’est pas impliquée dans le processus législatif européen. Alors, acharnement ou véritable scandale ? L’enquête des eurodéputés devrait permettre d’y voir clair. C’est aussi l’avis/l’espoir de Fabrice Leggeri, qui a jusqu’ici résisté aux appels à la démission.

      https://plus.lesoir.be/358143/article/2021-03-01/ue-frontex-accusee-dincarner-leurope-forteresse

    • La droite française au secours de Fabrice Leggeri, patron de Frontex

      Le groupe #LR au Parlement européen critique la « tentative de déstabilisation » à laquelle se livrerait la commissaire Ylva Johansson à l’égard du directeur de l’agence.

      Le torchon brûle entre la commissaire européenne aux affaires intérieures et à la migration, #Ylva_Johansson, et la droite française. Dans une lettre au ton cinglant adressée vendredi 26 février à l’ancienne ministre sociale-démocrate suédoise et lue par Le Monde, #François_Xavier-Bellamy, chef de la délégation #Les_Républicains (LR) au sein du groupe du #Parti_populaire_européen (#PPE, conservateurs) interroge la commissaire. Et il parle de « tentative de déstabilisation », de « divergence de fond », voire de « procès politique » que la commissaire instruirait contre Fabrice Leggeri, le directeur exécutif de l’agence des gardes-frontières et gardes-côtes Frontex.

      Ce responsable français est sur la sellette depuis des mois. Pour des refoulements illégaux de migrants (pushbacks) qu’aurait favorisés l’agence. Pour des retards dans le recrutement d’une quarantaine d’officiers chargés précisément de veiller au respect des droits fondamentaux par les agents de Frontex. Pour d’apparentes réticences à se conformer à des règles administratives en matière budgétaire. Ou encore pour ne pas avoir souscrit à des obligations de transparence en ce qui concerne des réunions avec des lobbys et des responsables de l’industrie de la défense et de la surveillance.

      Le groupe socialiste du Parlement a demandé la démission du numéro un de Frontex

      Ce dernier point n’est pas mentionné dans la lettre de M. Bellamy et l’entourage de Mme Johansson semble, par ailleurs, considérer qu’il n’y a pas de quoi mettre en cause M. Leggeri pour ces contacts, dénoncés notamment par l’ONG #Corporate_Europe_Observatory. Sur les autres questions, en revanche, la commissaire a demandé des explications. Et le groupe socialiste du Parlement a demandé la démission du numéro un de Frontex. En décembre, la responsable de la direction générale des affaires intérieures de la Commission adressait, elle, une longue lettre à M. Leggeri, avec, à la clé, de nombreux griefs.

      Demande de preuves

      Les élus LR volent, eux, au secours du directeur et demandent très fermement des explications à la commissaire. Quelles preuves a-t-elle, interrogent-ils, quand elle accuse M. Leggeri de ne pas se conformer aux directives budgétaires, comme elle l’a fait le 22 février dans la commission de contrôle du Parlement ? Sans éléments incontestables, cela pourrait s’apparenter à une volonté de déstabiliser le patron de l’agence, estiment-ils.

      A propos des refoulements illégaux de migrants, les eurodéputés français endossent les explications livrées jusqu’ici par Frontex : sur treize épisodes douteux, huit ont été jugés conformes par un groupe de travail constitué par la Commission. Cinq autres cas sont encore à l’examen, sur lesquels Mme Johansson a exigé « toutes les explications nécessaires ».

      La Turquie est soupçonnée d’être à l’origine d’informations sur les refoulements illégaux de migrants

      M. Bellamy lui demande à son tour si elle a répondu à un courrier qui lui a été adressé en novembre par M. Leggeri, et dans lequel il réclamait des instructions claires quant à l’attitude à adopter à l’égard de la Turquie. Celle-ci, qui a orienté massivement des migrants vers la Grèce et la Bulgarie en mars 2020, est aussi soupçonnée par certaines sources d’être à l’origine d’informations sur les refoulements illégaux de migrants.
      « Reproches infondés »

      Le groupe LR, qui bénéficie du soutien tacite d’autres élus du PPE, exige, dès lors, de disposer de tous les échanges entre Frontex et la Commission. La lettre se termine par des questions sur l’éventuel désaccord entre la commissaire Johansson et Frontex au sujet des missions mêmes de l’agence.

      Relayant l’idée que la commissaire serait partisane des « frontières ouvertes » – ce qu’elle conteste – les eurodéputés lui demandent s’il y a, de sa part, « un désaccord de fond » sur la stratégie actuelle de la Commission von der Leyen, qui vise à garantir le « mode de vie européen » ? A savoir la maîtrise des frontières, la lutte contre l’immigration clandestine et la contribution à « la sécurité intérieure ».

      « En instruisant un procès politique au moyen de reproches infondés, vous prendriez le risque de violer les principes fondamentaux de l’Etat de droit, de salir des fonctionnaires intègres et loyaux, de fragiliser la cohérence de l’action européenne », conclut la lettre. Contacté dimanche, le cabinet de Mme Johansson a déclaré avoir reçu la lettre mais ne pas souhaiter réagir immédiatement.

      https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2021/03/01/la-droite-francaise-au-secours-de-fabrice-leggeri-patron-de-frontex_6071549_

    • Un rapport d’enquête interne peu concluant sur le rôle de Frontex dans des refoulements illégaux de migrants

      Le document présenté lundi s’abstient d’impliquer des membres de l’Agence européenne de garde-frontières et garde-côtes dans des incidents en mer Egée.

      Un long rapport, lu par Le Monde et présenté, le 1er mars, par un groupe de travail désigné par le conseil d’administration de Frontex, confirme qu’il ne sera décidément pas simple, voire pas possible, de démontrer que des membres de l’Agence européenne de garde-frontières et garde-côtes ont été impliqués dans des « pushbacks » en mer Egée, des refoulements illégaux de migrants.

      Ce document final, pourtant très attendu, n’apporte aucune conclusion déterminante. D’autant que, sur quatre des cinq incidents encore jugés litigieux (huit ont été classés en janvier), l’enquête se poursuit.

      Sur la base des informations qui lui ont été livrées, le groupe de travail, composé de représentants de diverses institutions européennes et d’Etats membres, formule quelques recommandations qui peuvent être lues comme des critiques implicites du fonctionnement actuel de Frontex. Il prône ainsi une amélioration des rapports et de la surveillance des missions, une utilisation systématique de la vidéo, la recension de toute possible violation des droits humains et la suspension de l’aide apportée aux pays qui ne les respecteraient pas.
      Situations douteuses

      Pour le reste, la liste des « incidents » qui se seraient déroulés entre le 18 avril et le 21 octobre 2020 ne mentionne que les soupçons, parfois lourds mais jugés insuffisants, qui pèsent plutôt, en réalité, sur les gardes-côtes grecs et la marine turque, qui agissent aux limites des eaux territoriales des deux pays. Embarcations chassées, menacées, remorquées : dans certains cas, un navire suédois ou un avion danois mis à la disposition de l’agence ont recensé des situations douteuses, mais le groupe de travail conclut qu’il semble « impossible de les élucider entièrement ». D’autant que ce sont les autorités nationales qui assurent le commandement des opérations.

      Le rapport tient à souligner cependant l’importance de la mission de Frontex, présentée comme la « principale garantie de frontières solides et protégées ». Il y est rappelé aussi que, grâce aux interventions de Frontex, 28 000 personnes ont été sauvées en 2019 et près de 3 000 en 2020, tandis que 10 433 illégaux et 84 trafiquants étaient arrêtés. A propos des incidents considérés comme des « pushbacks » par des journalistes et des ONG, le document invite à considérer qu’aucun décès, aucune disparition et aucune blessure n’y seraient liés.

      Fabrice Leggeri, le directeur exécutif de l’agence, qui doit être entendu jeudi 4 mars par un comité spécial du Parlement européen, pourra se prévaloir de ces conclusions face aux diverses accusations dont il faitl’objet. L’Office de lutte antifraude (OLAF) et la médiatrice de l’Union européenne enquêtent aussi sur la gestion de l’agence, basée à Varsovie, tandis que la commissaire européenne aux affaires intérieures, Ylva Johansson, a réclamé toutes les explications sur l’action en mer Egée.
      Action de la Turquie

      M. Leggeri soulignera sans doute, jeudi, qu’il espère obtenir de la Commission qu’elle lui indique les lignes directrices précises qu’il doit suivre en ce qui concerne, notamment, l’action de la Turquie. Dans les considérations qu’il a formulées à destination du groupe de travail de son conseil d’administration, il rappelle d’ailleurs que les autorités d’Ankara entendent utiliser la migration comme un « levier politique » et il souligne que la Grèce se dit soumise aux « menaces hybrides » du régime turc.

      Soutenu entre autres par la droite française au Parlement, le directeur de Frontex transforme ainsi le débat sur le rôle humanitaire de son agence en une question géostratégique, et il incite la Commission à se positionner par rapport à l’encombrant partenaire avec lequel elle a signé, en 2016, un accord visant à réduire les flux migratoires vers l’Europe.

      Pendant ce temps, la Ligue hellénique des droits de l’homme, l’ONG Legal Centre Lesvos et l’organisation juridique Front-Lex demandent à Frontex « de suspendre immédiatement ou de cesser » ses activités en mer Egée, sous peine d’une action devant la justice européenne. Legal Centre Lesvos aurait documenté, depuis mars 2020, 17 refoulements de plus de 50 migrants entre la Grèce et la Turquie. L’ONG estime aussi que l’agence a enfreint le droit européen et violé la convention de Genève de 1951 relative aux droits des réfugiés.

      Frontex est aussi taxée de complicité dans la « détention sommaire de migrants sur les îles de la mer Egée dans des ports, des bus, des navires, des plages où l’accès aux procédures d’asile leur a été refusé ». Le 12 février, l’ONG allemande Mare Liberum faisait état, pour sa part, d’une « escalade inédite » des refoulements de migrants en mer Egée impliquant Frontex en 2020.

      https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2021/03/03/un-rapport-d-enquete-interne-peu-concluant-sur-le-role-de-frontex-dans-des-r

    • Le patron de Frontex se défend devant les eurodéputés, Bruxelles maintient la pression

      Le patron de Frontex a souligné jeudi devant des eurodéputés qu’aucune « preuve » d’une implication de l’agence de surveillance des frontières de l’UE dans des refoulements illégaux de migrants n’avait été établie par une enquête, mais Bruxelles a réitéré ses critiques.

      Le patron de Frontex a souligné jeudi devant des eurodéputés qu’aucune « preuve » d’une implication de l’agence de surveillance des frontières de l’UE dans des refoulements illégaux de migrants n’avait été établie par une enquête, mais Bruxelles a réitéré ses critiques.

      Ce rapport interne, qui doit être examiné vendredi par le conseil d’administration de Frontex et consulté mercredi par l’AFP, n’a pas permis de « clarifier complètement » les circonstances de plusieurs incidents au cours desquels des refoulements de migrants auraient eu lieu. Il préconise d’ailleurs d’améliorer le système de signalement et de surveillance des missions de l’agence.

      « Il n’y a pas eu de faits étayés ou prouvés pour aboutir à la conclusion que Frontex aurait participé ou se serait livrée à des violations des droits fondamentaux », a déclaré son directeur exécutif, Fabrice Leggeri, devant un groupe d’eurodéputés qui a ouvert sa propre enquête sur ces incidents.

      L’agence est montrée du doigt depuis la publication en octobre 2020 d’une enquête de plusieurs médias l’accusant d’être impliquée avec les garde-côtes grecs dans des incidents de refoulement de bateaux de migrants à la frontière entre la Grèce et la Turquie.

      Ces accusations ont également entraîné une enquête du gendarme européen antifraude, l’Olaf, ainsi que de la médiatrice de l’UE.

      La Commission européenne, membre du conseil d’administration de Frontex aux côtés des 27 Etats membres, s’est montrée critique sur la gestion de l’agence, fustigeant notamment la lenteur du recrutement des officiers chargés de surveiller le respect des droits fondamentaux et des agents devant constituer le nouveau contingent permanent.

      Créée en 2004, Frontex a vu son mandat renforcé en 2019. Elle doit se doter d’agents en uniforme et armés, employés directement par l’agence, et non plus mis à disposition provisoirement par les Etats membres.

      Le directeur exécutif a notamment dit qu’un officier et 40 « moniteurs » chargés de veiller au respect des droits fondamentaux étaient en cours de recrutement et que 300 officiers du contingent permanent étaient déployés sur le terrain ou allaient l’être la semaine prochaine.

      La commissaire européenne aux Affaires intérieures Ylva Johansson a toutefois souligné que 700 officiers auraient dû être déployés en janvier.

      Elle a aussi estimé que les « clarifications » sur les accusations de refoulements n’avaient que « trop tardé », et que ce délai n’était « pas bon pour la réputation et la confiance » dans Frontex.

      « Une agence de première classe a besoin d’une gouvernance de première classe », a-t-elle poursuivi, se réjouissant toutefois d’« entendre que beaucoup de choses sont en train d’être réglées ».

      Si des eurodéputés à gauche ont demandé la démission de Fabrice Leggeri, la droite française au Parlement européen a quant à elle pris la défense du patron de Frontex.

      Dans une lettre adressée le 26 février à la responsable suédoise, le président de la délégation française du groupe PPE (droite) François-Xavier Bellamy lui a demandé des « justifications solides et vérifiées » à ses « accusations », dénonçant une « tentative de déstabilisation » du chef de Frontex et « un procès politique ».

      https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/fil-dactualites/040321/le-patron-de-frontex-se-defend-devant-les-eurodeputes-bruxelles-maintient-

    • Greece accused of ‘shocking’ illegal pushback against refugees at sea

      Lawsuit filed at European court of human rights says group were abandoned in life rafts after some were beaten.

      A lawsuit filed against the Greek state at the European court of human rights accuses Athens of a shocking level of violence in sophisticated inter-agency operations that form part of an illegal pushback strategy to stop the arrival of refugees and migrants.

      The suit, filed by the NGO Legal Centre Lesvos, centres on an incident in October last year in which a fishing boat set off from Marmaris in Turkey for Italy carrying about 200 people, including 40 children and a pregnant woman. The boat ran into difficulty in a storm off the south coast of Crete, leading the captain to radio for assistance.

      The legal case claims that in an operation of unprecedented size and sophistication, instead of helping the stranded people onboard, a Greek search and rescue vessel and two small patrol boats stalled the smuggler’s boat for five hours until speedboats carrying masked commandos arrived. Several passengers claim they were beaten in the ensuing incident.

      Those onboard were separated into two groups and taken to two large coastguard boats, where armed crews of between 10 and 15 men, most wearing balaclavas, searched them and confiscated belongings including phones, passports and money.

      The passengers were then reportedly forced on to several small life rafts, towed back to Turkish waters and abandoned at sea without food, water, life jackets or any means to call for help. By the time they were picked up by the Turkish coastguard, their ordeal had lasted more than 24 hours.

      “It was like watching a movie. The men from the speedboats jumped onboard screaming and shouting, they all had guns and knives and were wearing black and masks,” said Mahmoud, a witness from Syria whose name has been changed.

      “They began beating people with batons, looking for the captain. They punched me in the face and broke my glasses … I understand they don’t want us, but you could send us back to Turkey without the need for violence. When they cut us loose on the rafts we all thought we were going to die,” he said.

      The lawsuit claims the practice of “pushbacks” has become standard for the Greek coastguard since March 2020, when Turkey, in an effort to pressure the EU, told its 4 million registered refugees that it would no longer stop them trying to reach Europe as per a 2016 deal between Ankara and Brussels.

      Athens reacted by temporarily halting all new asylum applications and allegedly employing increasingly brutal tactics to dissuade people in Turkey from making the journey.

      Exact figures are difficult to verify, but rights groups and journalists have recorded hundreds of alleged pushback incidents over the last 12 months. In most cases, people trying to cross the Aegean have been intercepted and towed back to Turkish waters. They are then cut loose either in their own boats, after the Greek coastguard has disabled their engines, or on overcrowded life rafts.

      On several occasions people claim to have been pushed back after landing on Greek soil, and passengers have been abandoned on an uninhabited Turkish islet at least twice, according to reporting by Der Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports and the New York Times.

      In at least one case, the EU border agency, Frontex, is accused of covering up evidence of a Greek pushback operation.

      These collective expulsions, as they are known, are illegal under international law but not under Greek national law. The Guardian’s requests for comment from Greek officials went unanswered. Greece has denied illegality in the past.

      The incident in October stands out because of the reported level of violence involved and the size and scope of the operation, which would have taken hours to coordinate and involved eight Greek vessels and two dozen crew from different agencies.

      “‘Pushback’ isn’t even really the right term. It’s a decision by the authorities to deliberately abandon people at sea putting their lives at risk, with no means to call for rescue and no chance at all to claim asylum,” said Natasha Ntailiani, a Legal Centre Lesvos lawyer representing some of the survivors before the ECHR.

      “It’s a new and disturbing trend characterised by planned and systematic violence, which has increased over the last year in the Aegean region. Even search and rescue vessels and materials are now being used against migrants, which is a remarkable insight into the lengths the Greek authorities are now willing to go to.”

      Testimony from 11 complainants and dozens of pages of collaborating evidence – including geo-located pictures and video, GPS coordinates, and phone and message logs from the ship’s radio, passengers, the Alarm Phone hotline and the Greek and Turkish coastguards – painted a complete and damning picture of the new tactics, the centre said.

      The suit is the fifth LCL has filed at the ECHR in recent years to allege violations of migrant and refugee rights in Greece. Progress is slow, but the applicants hope the latest case will persuade the court that pushbacks, despite the fact they are now reportedly a systemic and regular feature of Greek border policing, are illegal.

      A decision at the court last year that Spain did not breach the rights of two men it expelled from the Melilla enclave on the basis they had tried to enter illegally “as part of a large group” sets a worrying precedent.

      In light of the judgment, Frontex has since asked the European commission if it can refuse to process individual asylum claims if people are travelling in groups, as is often the case in the Aegean.

      “I didn’t even want to go to Greece. We knew that they were harming refugees when they arrive, but it was shocking to experience the reality, which is that Europe doesn’t care at all about human rights and dignity,” said Yara from Damascus, whose name has also been changed. She said she had been traumatised by her experiences on the day the storm hit the fishing boat.

      “Despite all of that, I will still try again. I can’t build a life in Syria or Turkey,” she said.

      Mahmoud echoed Yara’s thoughts. “I got kicked out of Qatar because of the pandemic. I would rather have stayed there,” he said. “If there was a legal way to get to Europe I would take it, but there isn’t. I don’t want to make that journey again, but I will, because I have to.”

      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/26/greece-accused-of-shocking-pushback-against-refugees-at-sea