The investigations “show for the first time that Frontex officials are aware of illegal practices by the Greek Coast Guard and are partly involved themselves in cases of refusal,” writes Der Spiegel.
Journalists say they have documented six cases since April in the Aegean Sea in which Frontex teams at least witnessed without reacting to the refusal and heading to Turkey of refugee boats in Greek waters, an illegal practice, AFP notes.
In one case in June, a video shows a Frontex ship blocking a refugee boat and then, in another recorded scene, passing in front of the refugee boat at high speed before leaving the area.
Using open source data, including videos and photographs, Frontex personnel, including two Romanian ships on patrol at the time, appear to be directly involved in maneuvers to discourage asylum seekers from reaching shore (the so-called ” illegal pushbacks ”). Moreover, Romanians seem to refuse to save people from drifting boats and intentionally endanger their lives through dangerous maneuvers.
According to German journalists, this type of incident is rarely reported at Frontex headquarters in Warsaw.
Bucharest has been participating in Frontex missions with personnel and logistics since 2007, the year of accession to the European Union. Frontex was created as a common response to the various challenges and situations that may arise at the Union’s external borders, but it came to the public’s attention especially after the events of 2015, when a considerable number of asylum seekers, mostly from Syria and Iraq, European states crossed the southeastern border, especially Greece and Hungary. But an important component is missions at sea, especially those at the maritime border between Greece and Turkey.
These missions involve vessels engaged in Frontex Agency operations navigating, at shorter or greater distances from various means of transport – present in the area, in order to prevent and combat illegal migration in the reference area, but also to provide humanitarian aid when the situation requires it, in accordance with international law and human rights regarding asylum applications. The incidents documented by the German publication in which the Romanian ships are also involved would have taken place on June 8 and August 15 this year and present a reality far from humanitarian assistance and respect for human rights that Romanian border guards should have respected.
On the morning of August 15, Samira Mohammad was in a rubber boat with her family near the island of Lesvos when Greek border guards approached them dangerously close, in an obvious attempt to intimidate her. force them to return to Turkish territorial waters, where, according to the woman, they received the same treatment from Turkish border guards. According to the 45-year-old Syrian woman, who used a pseudonym for fear of reprisals from the authorities, the locals also have a name for these harassments – “water polo, the Greek version”.
The woman claims that the Greek border guards, with masks on their faces, boarded the boat, put the gun to their heads and forced the people to head to the Turkish territorial waters, after which they destroyed the boat’s engine. The woman’s entire family was in the boat in those traumatic moments, including her pregnant daughter-in-law, who was later hospitalized with massive bleeding. The whole operation lasted for hours, during which time they did not receive any humanitarian assistance from anyone.
According to public data, the Romanian ship MAI 1102 was only a few hundred meters away from the refugee boat, but decided not to do anything, which blatantly contradicts the purpose of the European agency’s mission. The incident was filmed by Turkish border guards and reported by a German NATO ship to the Berlin government, but the report was never made public.
In the June incident, Romanians went a step further and became directly involved in actions that endangered the lives of asylum seekers. MAI 1103, a boat belonging to the Border Police, was on a Frontex mission in the Aegean Sea when he allegedly physically blocked a boat with asylum seekers to reach the Greek shore. From the video images it is clear how the ship with Romanian personnel communicates with those in the boat, but it does not offer them any kind of assistance, as provided by the international legislation in such situations, notes free europe.
A few moments later, the Romanians intentionally increase the speed of the ship as they pass the drifting boat, a maneuver that creates waves and endangers the lives of migrants on board, after which they withdraw from the spot, leaving them Greek border guards to deal with the situation further.
“Such maneuvers to push people back violate the ban on collective deportation and international maritime law,” Dana Schmalz, an international law expert at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, told Der Spiegel. The lawyer points out that Frontex staff are obliged to immediately rescue people in makeshift boats, especially when they are overcrowded. “If instead of doing this they speed up to make waves, then leave the scene and let the Greeks do the dirty work, they are still involved in these illegal maneuvers to turn people back on the road.” , claims Schmalz.
In addition to Der Spiegel, the research involved a magazine of the German channel ARD, the team of journalists “Lighthouse Reports”, the investigation platform “Bellingcat” and the Japanese television channel TV Asahi. The authors of the investigation claim that they compared “dozens” of video recordings, satellite images, eyewitness accounts, including refugees and Frontex employees.
The European Border Surveillance Agency has used more than 600 agents in Greece, one of the EU’s gateways, as well as ships, drones and planes, according to the article.
Frontex did not comment on the cases raised by journalists, Der Spiegel said, but said its agents operated under a human rights code of conduct and complied with a ban on refusing migrant boats.
Without mentioning the article, Frontex announced on its Twitter account on Friday night that it was “in contact with the Greek authorities in connection with incidents at sea in recent months” and that Athens had opened “an internal investigation”. Frontex acts “in compliance with fundamental rights and international law,” the agency said on Twitter.
The Greek Conservative government has always rejected allegations of illegal refusal of migrant boats at its borders, which it is targeted by several NGOs.