An officer patrolling for the European border patrol agency Frontex | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Christian Charisius
An officer patrolling for the European border patrol agency Frontex | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/Christian Charisius

Germany said it will not withdraw its Frontex border agents from Greece despite the growing coronavirus pandemic. Greece had asked the EU border agency to increase its support in bolstering its border with Turkey in early March.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Germany has withdrawn Frontex border agents from missions in Spain, Italy, Bulgaria and Albania. German Frontex agents in Greece will, however, continue their work for the time being, the German Interior Ministry said according to news agency dpa.

In a letter dated March 17, Frontex had asked EU member states to keep their personnel in Greece operational despite the spread of the novel coronavirus. The pressure on Europe's borders remains high, Frontex had stated. The agency added that safety measures were in place to protect border agents from the virus.

Frontex' mandate in Greece

Frontex operates at the EU's external borders -- with its main operations being in Greece, Italy, Spain and the Western Balkans. Frontex personnel are deployed by different EU member states. Germany, for example, currently deploys 82 police personnel working for Frontex in Greece -- the largest contingent of a single EU member state.

In Frontex' Greece operations, 600 officers in total from different EU countries "perform border surveillance, assist in the identification and registration of incoming migrants, as well as debriefing and screening," according to Frontex. They are actively involved across a wider-reaching area that covers Greece's sea borders with Turkey, the Greek islands as well as the Greek land border with Turkey.

Additional agents to secure land border

In early March, Frontex deployed 100 additional border guards as part of a "rapid border intervention requested by Greece." At least 13,000 migrants had amassed along the Turkish border with Greece at that time in a bid to get to cross over into the EU member state. The rush to the border started after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had made an announcement at the end of February that he would no longer stop migrants and refugees headed to Europe.

In the weeks that followed, Greek border guards repeatedly used tear gas against migrants who also used violence against police in turn. Greece temporarily suspended the right to asylum for a month for migrants who entered the country illegally after March 1. 

Turkey has accused Greece of human rights abuses, while Greece said Erdogan was using refugees for political blackmail against the EU.

 

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