The European Union's border and coast guard agency Frontex has launched an internal investigation after claims it was involved in pushbacks of migrants at Greece’s external borders. It said it does not tolerate rights violations in its activities.
Frontex announced on Tuesday that it has begun an internal inquiry into “suspicious incidents” recently reported by several news organizations.
The organizations, including media outlet Bellingcat, Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, ARD and TV Asahi, alleged that the border agency was complicit in pushbacks aimed at preventing migrants and refugees from entering Europe through the Greek islands.
Bellingcat reported that video and other data suggest Frontex assets "were actively involved in one pushback incident at the Greek-Turkish maritime border in the Aegean Sea, were present at another and have been in the vicinity of four more since March."
Bellingcat said that while Frontex was not present at the other four incidents, "the signature of a pushback is distinctive, and would likely have been visible on radar, with visual tools common on such vessels or to the naked eye."
"We are looking into the accusations," Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said in a statement. He said that the EU agency does "not tolerate any violations of the fundamental rights in any of our activities."
"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," Leggeri said.
Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements. According to the principle of "non-refoulement," people should not be expelled or returned a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality or being members of a social or political group.
The media outlets said their investigation was based on open source data, including Turkish coast guard video imagery.
The EU commissioner for internal affairs, Ylva Johansson, had asked Frontex to clarify the incidents. If confirmed, they would be "completely unacceptable," she told Deutschlandfunk radio.
Frontex said that a dispute between Turkey and Greece over their maritime borders had made its work in the eastern Aegean complicated. Greek and Turkish coast guard ships are often involved in standoffs and threats in the narrow stretch of water between the two countries.
"This has also affected search and rescue activities in the area," it said. Despite the "increasing difficulties," the agency said it had rescued 2,700 people this year.
Frontex has almost 600 officials helping Greece to monitor its sea borders with Turkey and to identify and register migrants.
With Reuters, AFP