Human rights violations at the Greek EU external border and especially the illegal expulsion of people on the move is a daily practice in the Aegean. This year alone we know of over 4,500 people who have been threatened, beaten, humiliated and then abandoned at sea and actively put in life threatening danger in 163 incidents. Moreover, as Greece is the host of the largest Frontex operation, the question of what role the EU border agency plays in these systematic human rights violations arises again and again. There is no independent investigation and the whole issue is generously ignored by national and European authorities.

The documentation of pushbacks in the Aegean over the last one and a half years shows, in addition to the escalation of violence and normalisation of systematic human rights crimes at the EU's external border, above all that pushbacks are not a Greek but rather a European project [1]. In autumn 2020, Frontex's active and passive involvement in at least six pushbacks in the Aegean was revealed. Frontex blames the host-state, namely Greece, for this, and Greece in turn denies carrying out pushbacks at all. A working group convened by Frontex itself in November 2020 to investigate 13 incidents in the Aegean could not prove any wrongdoing. The evidence of Frontex's participation and execution of pushbacks seems to bother the European authorities as little as the Greek ones. 

On the contrary, both Greece and Frontex repeatedly emphasise the good cooperation in the "protection" of the European external borders. For example, at the end of May this year, at a meeting between Frontex Director Leggeri, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Greek Migration Minister Mitarakis in Athens. All parties congratulated and celebrated each other for the decrease in new arrivals on the islands and the "successful saving of thousands of lives since 2015." [2] While Leggeri denied the pushbacks last year, at least claiming that Frontex was unaware of it all, he now fully supports Greece's migration policy based on human rights violations: “This meeting was extremely rewarding for our agency, recognising the role Frontex has played over the years to assist Greece at its borders, helping to deal with the large numbers of migrants, as well as combat cross-border crime. We are committed to supporting Greece.” [3] Against the background of the investigation, which has been anything but independent and has been characterised by covering up incidents, of Frontex's involvement in illegal pushbacks in the Aegean, statements like this are a cynical backing of Greece. Although neither new nor surprising, Frontex's acceptance of human rights violations is becoming increasingly visible. 

Article 46 of the Frontex Regulation provides that the Executive Director Leggeri must suspend and terminate any activity of the agency if "there are serious or likely to persist breaches of fundamental rights or international protection obligations in relation to the activity concerned". [4] In the case of Greece, the ongoing pushbacks and the countless pieces of evidence from various actors are theoretically reason enough to terminate the Frontex mission, as happened in Hungary earlier this year. There, the European agency was practically forced to do so by a ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The EU judges justified the ruling primarily on the grounds that people who had entered Hungary "illegally" were being deported to Serbia without the individual case being examined [5]. A practice that is also used on a daily basis in the Aegean Sea and thus systematically deprives people on the move of their rights. 

Frontex has been present at the land and sea borders in Greece since 2010 with Operation Poseidon. With 660 officers of the 'standing corps' of the border agency introduced this year and 16 ships in the Aegean Sea, it is still the largest Frontex mission [6]. The 'standing corps' is to be armed and given its own Frontex uniforms by this summer. [7].

To withdraw Frontex from Greece, the border agency would first have to acknowledge the pushback allegations and launch serious investigations. It would also need more political pressure from other European states, as well as the EU to investigate and, if necessary, sue Greece, as has happened with Hungary [8]This is not likely to happen, as pushbacks at the southern external borders fit well into the European migration policy, which focuses on sealing off and externalizing borders. Accordingly, it is very convenient for the rest of Europe if Greece takes over the illegal part of 'border protection'. In line with Europe, the newly appointed Commissioner for Fundamental Rights at Frontex ignores the pushback allegations and sees no reason to end the operations in Greece [9].

In short: Frontex is part of illegal pushbacks at the European external borders, covers up the human rights violations of the host states, in this case Greece, and focuses on armament instead of clarification and transparency. Human rights, as well as the protection of people on the move, play absolutely no role in Frontex's work.

Even if Frontex were to withdraw from Greece or Leggeri were to resign, this would not change Frontex's role. The European migration system of which Frontex is an important part is inhumane and potentially deadly for all those who come to Europe to seek protection. "Border protection" can never be compatible with the right to a self-determined and dignified life.

That is why we are part of the "Abolish Frontex" campaign in which we, together with many other international organisations and groups, demand the abolition of the Border Agency. In addition to this demand, the alliance stands for the legalisation of migrants, an end to deportations, detention and surveillance of people on the move, and the militarisation of borders. We demand an end to the EU border regime and the promotion of solidarity [10]!

Mare Liberum i. A.

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