The EU border agency Frontex is to provide more support to Greece to deport rejected asylum seekers. The agency has been criticized for covering up human rights abuses against migrants at Greece's external borders.
A plan to boost returns of migrants who have been refused protection in Greece was agreed on Tuesday (March 14) by Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi, Citizens’ Protection Minister Panagiotis Theodorikakos and Hans Leijtens, who took over as the head of Frontex earlier this month.
Under the agreement, Frontex will also help Greek authorities with identifying and counselling migrants "to inform them about the possibilities to return voluntarily to their home countries and receive integration support."
"Returns are an essential part of border management, so I am proud that we can provide even more support to Greece in this important area," said Leijtens in a Frontex statement.
Greece has reiterated a call for the EU as a whole to increase returns of migrants to their home countries. "A low number of returns of those who are not eligible for asylum undermines credibility and the asylum system as a whole," Mitarachi said.
Controversial Frontex operations
Frontex receives more funds than any other EU agency, with a budget of more than €750 million in 2022. It already provides a large number of officers and equipment to Greece to help control its sea and land borders through Operation Poseidon: More than 500 personnel, 11 boats and 30 patrol cars, as well as other equipment, are currently deployed, the agency said in a press release this week.
The activities of Frontex in Greece have been widely criticized in relation to alleged human rights abuses and illegal pushbacks of refugees. A report last year by the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF accused the agency, then led by Fabrice Leggeri, of turning a blind eye to human rights violations.
In March, 2022, Syrian asylum seeker Alaa Hamoudi filed a claim against Frontex to the European Court of Justice over an alleged illegal expulsion to Turkey, carried out by the joint Greek-Frontex operation.
'Shared vision on external border management'
The announcement of additional Frontex support for Greece came as the European Commission presented a new strategy for integrated border management across the EU, which included provisions for increased cooperation with Frontex on voluntary and forced returns. The Commission said that under a better-coordinated system, EU member states would be able to "make full use of the support available from Frontex for all phases of the return process."
Measures announced by the Commission on Tuesday as part of the plan to expedite returns included:
- More efficient returns: The Commission says a new case management system will enable EU Member States to access information on migrants subject to a return decision. It adds that detention of deportees should be a measure of last resort.
- Incentives for voluntary return: Migrants should have access to return and reintegration counselling to promote voluntary return.
The Commission noted that migrant returns should be carried out with full respect for human rights and in accordance with EU law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU and with international law, including through effective monitoring mechanisms.