Frontex has worked with several national coast guard forces across the Mediterranean Sea | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld
Frontex has worked with several national coast guard forces across the Mediterranean Sea | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

Three senior officials at the EU border agency Frontex actively concealed illegal pushbacks of migrants and refugees, according to a report from the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF.

Frontex leaders actively tried to conceal information that Greek officials carried out pushbacks in the Aegean Sea, according to a report from European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF cited by German news magazine Spiegel on Tuesday (February 2).

OLAF investigators alleged that three members of the senior management deliberately did not classify pushback cases as human rights violations, according to the Spiegel report.

OLAF has recommended that the agency's management board take disciplinary action against them, Spiegel reported. The board -- which is made up in large part of representatives of the Schengen countries -- is expected to discuss the matter at a meeting next Monday (March 7), according to Spiegel.

Pushbacks from Greece concealed?

The three Frontex leaders reportedly tried to conceal pushbacks carried out by Greek officials in the Eastern Mediterrean Sea. Frontex personell was allegedly nearby when Greek border guards carried out pushbacks. In some cases, Frontex officials reportedly handed migrants or refugees over to Greek officials, who then carried out pushbacks. This was revealed by investigative journalists from Spiegel and Lighthouse Reports last fall.

Under international and EU law, people seeking asylum cannot be returned to another country without having their cases processed. This makes pushbacks -- the practice of pushing migrants or refugees back across a border they just crossed -- illegal.

Accusations against Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri

OLAF has thus far not publically identified the three Frontex officials or said whether Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri is among them. However, based on the nature of the accusations, observers believe that Leggeri is likely among the three people accused of concealing pushbacks.

The OLAF report -- which is over 200 pages long and contains the testimony of 20 witnesses, according to Spiegel -- is the product of a year-long investigation into Frontex. Watchdog OLAF launched a probe into the border agency in early 2021, because of allegations of harassment, misconduct and migrant pushbacks, according to EU officials cited by news site Politico Europe. In January 2021, investigators searched the office of Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri in Warsaw.

Over the past years, there have been multiple reports from EU parliamentarians and investigative journalists that have alleged that Frontex officials are prone to turn a blind eye to pushbacks. Fabrice Leggeri has also long faced accusations of tolerating, concealing or encouraging pushbacks. Leggeri and his agency have denied these accusations.

 

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