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EU Border Agency Chief Resigns Amid Migrant Pushback Claims

Greece migrant pushbacks
A Greek Coast Guard vessel prevents a migrant boat from entering Greece. Turkish Coast Guard vessels are seen in the background allegedly escorting the boat towards Greek waters. Credit: Greek Coast Guard

EU border agency’s chief resigned last week following allegations that the agency was involved in migrant pushbacks from Greece’s borders.

The board of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, known as Frontex, said on Friday that it accepted the resignation of Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.

Last year, the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog, OLAF, opened an investigation into Frontex over allegations of harassment, misconduct, and migrant pushbacks.

Forcing would-be refugees away from a border—known as pushback—before they can reach a country and claim asylum is considered a violation of international refugee protection agreements, which hold that people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be endangered.

Frontex’s management board said Leggeri was given the opportunity to comment on the findings contained in the OLAF report at the start of a two-day extraordinary meeting on Thursday.

“On the first day of the meeting, [Leggeri] declared his resignation from all his functions with immediate effect and his intention to terminate his employment in the Agency,” it was said.

“The Management Board took note of his intentions and concluded that the employment has therefore come to an end,” Frontex said in a statement.

Frontex has been involved in the pushbacks of at least 957 asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea between March 2020 and September 2021, according to a joint investigation this week by Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, SRF Rundschau, Republik, and Le Monde.

The investigation suggested that Frontex’s database recorded illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea as “prevention of departure” incidents.

UNHCR calls on Greece to stop migrant pushbacks

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in February called for Greece to stop pushing back migrants who are attempting to seek asylum in the country.

Greek politicians denied the accusations that such pushbacks were taking place, saying that the UNHCR has been misled by Turkish propaganda. Turkey recently bolstered its claims that Greece was responsible for the deaths of migrants pushed back from its borders.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi spoke out against “the increasing number of incidents of violence and serious human rights violations against refugees and migrants at various European borders,” which have led to multiple deaths. Grandi also called out Greece directly.

“We are alarmed by recurrent and consistent reports coming from Greece’ island and sea borders with Turkey where UNHCR has recorded almost 540 reported incidents of informal returns by Greece since the beginning of 2020,” he added.

Investigation in Greece finds no evidence of migrant pushbacks

Greece has consistently denied that its coast guard is involved in migrant pushbacks in cooperation with Frontex.

An investigation concluded in March by Greece’s national transparency watchdog has found no basis for reports of migrant pushbacks by Greek authorities.

The independent National Transparency Authority (NTA) announced that an in-depth investigation into claims that Hellenic Coast Guard authorities were involved in illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers had found no evidence to support the allegations.

In a statement on Tuesday, the NTA said the allegations of what it called “informal forced returns” of asylum seekers by masked men “were not confirmed.”

“Upon completion of the examination process and the laboratory examination of the relevant material, no supporting evidence emerged,” the statement said.

The NTA investigation, which began last November, included visits to the eastern Aegean Sea islands, where migrant boats from Turkey arrive, and to the northeastern land border.

The NTA said it conducted interviews with Greek security services, local residents, and asylum-seekers. It said it also examined video and photos connected with the allegations with assistance from Greek police.

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