Over the past year, pushbacks have become a reality in the Aegean that is as common as it is inhumane. The initial focus with this issue fell on the activities of the Greek authorities, but for some time now, the involvement of Frontex in illegal pushbacks has also been increasingly discussed. Numerous incidents have come to light in which Frontex was either present or actively involved [1]. It can only be speculated to what extent the European authority is really involved in human rights violations at the European external border. So too, recent reports have again made clear that other European actors are also involved, finally shaking off the narrative of Greece’s responsibility alone.

According to an internal letter from Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri to the EU Commission, officers of the German Federal Police were again involved in the illegal rejection of refugees in the Aegean [2]. The report, which is available from “Der Spiegel” and “Report Mainz”, stated that the Greek observation post "Praso" discovered a rubber dinghy at six o'clock in the morning on 10 August. The stretch of sea in which the rubber dinghy was located is considered particularly dangerous and undoubtedly falls in the jurisdiction of Greek waters. All the surrounding ships were alerted and around 15 minutes later, the crew of the German Federal Police ship BP62, "Uckermark", arrived. Its officers located and stopped an overcrowded rubber dinghy with 40 people on board. But instead of rescuing the occupants, they blocked the boat from continuing its journey, left the occupants to wait and then handed them over to the Greek authorities.

(picture of the Uckermark: https://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/bilder/uckermark-101~_v-videowebl.jpg)

The federal police must have guessed what sort of injustice was in the offing. Pushbacks are anything but rare in the Aegean, carried out daily and systematically. Officials say that the federal police subsequently inquired via e-mail what happened to the occupants of the rubber dinghy. The answer they received from the Greek authorities is unparalleled in its cynicism and yet did not seem to embarrass the federal police: that is, the rubber dinghy they found had changed course at the sight of the Greek coast guard and was heading back towards Turkey.

What really happened is obvious. A photo taken two hours later by the Turkish coast guard leaves no room for doubt [3]. The 40 people were forced back into Turkish waters and abandoned there in the open sea. Rather than rescue the people on board and ensure their access to a fair asylum procedure, as would have been their duty, the German Police officers actively participated in injustice against those seeking safety. Not even a "Serious Incident Report", which is required in cases of suspected human rights violations, was prepared by the Federal Police [4].

Unsurprisingly, the German Ministry of the Interior roughly confirms the course of the operation but denies any responsibility of the "Uckermark" [5]. Since there was no immediate distress at sea, the situation was merely reported to the command. In principle, the German security forces had acted within the framework of the Frontex operation "Poseidon" and were thus subordinate to the Greek authorities. So, there could be no question of participation in a pushback.

The agency’s repeated commitment to upholding the orders of local authorities is already well known from other statements by Frontex on dubious operations [6]. The European authorities are all too happy with Greece carrying out the inhumane practice of sealing off people at the European border. However, if any participating officer or body finds themself targeted, as in the case of the "Uckermark", they can always point to Greece's responsibilities and the agency’s flimsy protocols. It is therefore hardly surprising that undisguised gratitude is expressed towards Greece, as became clear with the declaration by German Minister of Interior, Horst Seehofer, that Greece is defending "Europe's integrity" at the external border.

Nor is this the first time that questions have been raised about the extent of Germany’s involvement in illegal pushbacks in the Aegean. The "Uckermark" itself was already involved in an incident in May 2020, when it actively helped to intercept a boat with refugees off Samos, thus denying people their right to asylum [7]. Similarly, the A1411 Berlin of the German Navy, which operates under NATO command, has on multiple occasions been present as an eyewitness to brutal and illegal pushbacks [8].

This feigned ignorance and habitual turning a blind eye are by now notorious. The strategy is well known, both on the part of German units such as the "Uckermark" or the "Berlin" and that of Frontex. The so-called European border protection agency has been actively or passively involved in at least 6 pushbacks to date, taking all measures to cover up its own crimes in the Aegean [9]. It should therefore be clear by now: pushbacks are not only a human rights crime organised primarily by Greek authorities, but a common and inhumane European strategy.

In view of the overwhelming evidence, an independent investigation and reappraisal of German involvement in pushbacks is urgently needed. The inhumane practice of pushbacks and Europe’s deadly isolationist policy which sustains it must all come to an end!

Mare Liberum i. A.

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