A leaked internal review of Europe’s border agency Frontex shows the agency routinely covered up the Greek coastguard’s illegal treatment of migrants, media reports said Thursday.
European Anti-Fraud Office’s (OLAF) investigation, which resulted in the leaked 129-page confidential report, shows that Frontex deliberately looked the other way when the Greek coast guard illegally pushed refugees back into the sea.
The report comes in the wake of the repeated allegations by aid groups that Frontex was turning a blind eye to Greek human rights violations at sea.
Instead of preventing the pushbacks, under former executive director Fabrice Leggeri, the agency was complicit in Greek efforts to force migrants and asylum-seekers crossing the Aegean Sea to return to Turkey.
Media reports also claim that Leggeri and his people also lied to the EU Parliament and concealed the fact that Frontex even supported at least six pushbacks involving Greek coastguard ships that had been co-financed with European taxpayers’ money.
The OLAF’s investigation, which paints a damning picture of Leggeri’s leadership, played a role in his resignation last April.
The OLAF review found one incident in August 2020 in which Frontex Surveillance Aircraft filmed the Greek coastguard towing a dinghy with around 30 migrants on board towards Turkish waters although they should have been taken to Greece.
A hand-written note that OLAF investigators found later shows that Frontex actually stopped patrolling the Aegean by air instead of confronting Greek authorities, saying they needed the planes elsewhere, so they won’t witness Greece’s illegal actions.
Stressing that Greece has the right to protect its borders, Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi pointed out that the report summary does not blame Greece directly for any wrongdoing while the Greek government is consistently denying the pushbacks’ allegations.
Commenting on OLAF’s report, European Commission spokeswoman Anitta Hipper said that there’s a new legislative proposal to ensure a robust monitoring system for arriving migrants while Frontex’s governance issue has temporarily been solved with interim executive director Aija Kalnaja, which heads the agency since the start of July.