EU border agency Frontex has responded to an investigation indicating it covered up pushbacks of migrants in Greece. While the agency acknowledged a number of wrongdoings and shortcomings, it also said they are "practices of the past."
The statement by Frontex came on Friday (October 15), less than 24 hours after the publication of the EU anti-fraud office report that revealed the agency's involvement in covering up alleged migrant pushbacks from Greek territories.
The report on Frontex' activities was completed in February and was made public last week by the Germany-based freedom of information portal FragDenStaat together with media organizations Der Spiegel and Lighthouse Reports.
The investigation concluded that Frontex was involved in covering up illegal pushbacks of migrants from Greece to Turkey in violation of their "fundamental rights."
In its statement, Frontex acknowledged "serious misbehavior" of several staff in 2020. At the same time, it said "these were practices of the past." However, in the same statement it also said said it would "right the wrongs of the past and present."
"The Agency takes the findings of investigations, audits and other forms of scrutiny seriously and uses them as opportunities to make changes for the better," the statement reads.
The agency's management said that it has taken several "remedial measures" to address the issues. According to the management, these are mainly procedural changes within the agency. For instance, Frontex has allegedly amended procedures for reporting serious incidents, including pushback allegations.
Aside from the misbehavior, according to Frontex management, the OLAF report identified "three key issues." Firstly, the fundamental rights officer was prevented from accessing operational information, which is contrary to the provisions of the 2019 Regulation of the European Border and Coast Guard, Frontex said.
Secondly, the fundamental rights officer was not assigned someone with the specific responsibility to report on serious incidents regarding alleged violations of fundamental rights. Thirdly, "following procedure and reporting serious incidents to the hierarchy was blatantly ignored by individuals who have been investigated," Frontex management conceded.
Frontex also said in the statement that the agency established an action plan this summer together with Greek authorities.
Documented pushback cases
The EU anti-fraud office (OLAF) report, which examined Frontex activities in Greece from spring to fall 2020, found that the agency wasn't investigating or handling evidence of pushbacks correctly. Moreover, it was at times trying to cover them up or not reporting them at all.
Forcibly pushing migrants back across an international border, on land or at sea, without an assessment of their rights to apply for asylum or other forms of protection, is a violation of both international and EU law and known as refoulement.
Greek authorities have long been accused by human rights lawyers, non-governmental organizations, media investigations and other entities of conducting violent and deadly pushbacks of migrants and refugees crossing into its borders from Turkey.
The Greek government has so far vehemently denied any wrongdoing, pointing the finger instead at Turkish authorities whom they accuse of instrumentalizing migration and failing to live up to the EU-Turkey agreement on refugees.
Also read: 92 migrants found naked and bruised at Greece-Turkey border
Greece calls for more solidarity among EU states
Meanwhile, Greece's Minister for Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, has said there is a need for more solidarity from the European Union for member states on the EU's external borders where most migrants arrive irregularly.
Addressing the EU's Internal Affairs Council in Luxembourg on Friday, Mitarachi indicated that Greece supports the idea of a Common European Area of Protection, in which recognized refugees should have the right to move and settle freely.
"Our position is that the solidarity mechanism should be legally binding, predictable and include legal assurances that the solidarity needs as expressed by the member states will be adequately addressed," the Greek Minister said.