Europe investigates possible illegal refoulements carried out by the Frontex agency

The European Anti-Fraud Office confirmed Monday, January 11, to conduct an investigation and to have searched the premises of the agency during the month of December.

The Frontex agency which guards the borders of the Shengen space is under investigation. Olaf (the European Anti-Fraud Office) confirmed in a press release published Monday, January 11, to conduct an investigation for “illegal practices” and especially “illegal refoulements».

According to’EU Observe, Olaf would have conducted in December searches of the premises of the agency in Warsaw, and in particular of its director, the French Fabrice Leggeri and his chief of staff. Olaf confirmed the accusations of “Harassment, professional misconduct and” push back “», Without specifying more.

For its part, Frontex indicated that “in accordance with its transparency policy, [elle] fully collaborated with Olaf“And recalled that”such visits do not involve[aient] not necessarily the existence of wrongdoing».

Charges of illegal refoulements

For several months, the Frontex agency has been accused of illegal refoulements. In October 2020, a joint investigation by Bellincat, der Spiegel, Lighthouse Reports, ARD and TV Asahi, showed how the European agency’s coastguards were illegally turning back migrants in the Aegean Sea.

Among the practices identified, the survey notes: “This can mean either physically blocking the boat until it runs out of fuel or sabotaging the engine.“. Even though the investigation pointed out that the majority of these push-backs were the work of the Greek Coast Guard, the media consortium illustrated that in several cases Frontex staff were involved.

More recently, a report from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (CHH)pointed out “how the Agency turned a blind eye to well-documented systemic human rights violations at Hungary’s Schengen borders for more than four years“, And”extrajudicial refoulementsBetween Hungary and Serbia.

However, these refoulements are illegal under international law, because they prevent immigrants from accessing asylum requests.

Internal investigations

Faced with these accusations, several MEPs called for an investigation against the director of Frontex. On the side of the Commission, Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, also demanded an explanation of these accusations.

Fabrice Leggeri defended himself on December 1 before the European Parliament. He pointed out that an internal investigation within the agency had failed to establish any evidence of the agency’s involvement in illegal refoulement practices.

A working group has even been set up by the agency’s board of directors, it must report on these accusations at its next meeting, on January 20 and 21.

Chance of the calendar, the announcement of the investigation took place on the same day as the the presentation of the new uniforms of the Frontex teams. The agency, created in 2004, intends to bring together a workforce of 10,000 border and coast guards in 2027. 700 of them, employed directly by Frontex – and not made available by member countries – must be deployed as of month of January. Among them, 40 employees responsible for ensuring respect for fundamental rights in the agency’s operations.

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