Europe’s lawmakers from the Socialists and Democrats group on Tuesday urged the head of Europe’s Border and Coast Guard Agency’s (Frontex), Fabrice Leggeri to step down from his position, following months of allegations on the agency’s involvement in illegal practices and violations of fundamental rights.
“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,” said Kati Piri, S&D Vice-President for migration and LIBE member, before adding that are still “far too many” unanswered questions on the involvement of Frontex in illegal practices.
“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,” she added.
The move by Europe’s lawmakers followed a report by the German newspaper Der Spiegel in October, which published its investigation entitled “EU Border Agency Frontex Complicit in Greek Refugee Pushback Campaign.” The report found 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.”
However, Leggeri denied allegations, supporting that “so far, no documents or other materials have been found to substantiate any accusations of violations of the law or the Frontex Code of Conduct by deployed officers.” He added that the agency does “not tolerate any violations of the fundamental rights” in any of its activities.
In another report by the New York Times last week, Frontex came again under fire for having helped cover up international law 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.
Greece and Turkey constitute key transit points for migrants seeking to cross into Europe, in their effort to flee war or prosecution. Under international law, pushbacks are considered to be breaching international rules, in cases where migrants are expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger for reasons related to their race, religion, nationality, or membership in a social group or political opinion.
Earlier in July, during a hearing of the parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee (LIBE), Leggeri had denied any knowledge of pushbacks by the Greek authorities, except for one event he labelled as a “misunderstanding.” However, Der Spiegel’s report showed that Frontex officials were aware of at least six incidents where the Greek authorities had carried out pushbacks, without offering its help to migrants in distress and despite the obligation of the Code of Conduct of Frontex officers to prevent refoulements.
On November 10, the head of Frontex called for the creation of an evaluation committee to consider legal questions related to the agency’s surveillance of external sea borders, in a bid to reflect member – states’ concerns about “hybrid threats” affecting their national security at external borders where Frontex will deploy its standing corps.
“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,” Leggeri said.