Head of Frontex offers to resign, source says after accusations of rights abuse

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BRUSSELS, April 29 (Reuters) – The head of the European Union’s border agency Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, has offered to resign, a source told Reuters on Friday, after accusations that the body mistreated migrants on the external frontiers of the bloc.

Frontex spokesman Pior Switalski declined to comment. The European Commission – the EU’s executive arm that oversees Frontex – also declined to comment, saying an extraordinary session of the Warsaw-based agency was going on.

The board was discussing “specific difficulties” at Frontex and would comment after wrapping up in the afternoon, the Commission said.

Leggeri, who in the past dismissed the accusations, was not immediately available for comment.

Executive Director of European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex Fabrice Leggeri . EPA-EFE/STR

The EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF launched an investigation last year into allegations of human rights violations by Frontex, an agency tasked with managing migration on the bloc’s external frontiers. OLAF’s report has not been made public.

Erik Marquardt, a German lawmaker in the European Parliament with the Greens’ faction, said on March 2 that the summary of the report “reveals that Frontex’s management was aware of human rights violations and deliberately avoided reporting them.”

In 2021, the European Parliament published its own report into allegations that Frontex was involved in so-called pushbacks, including in the Aegean Sea between EU member Greece and Turkey.

Pushbacks violate the EU’s obligations under international humanitarian law, which prohibits returning people to where their lives would be at risk.

“Several reliable actors… consistently reported about fundamental rights violations at the border in a number of Member States, but that Frontex generally disregarded these reports,” said the European Parliament’s report.

“The Agency also failed to adequately respond to internal observations about certain cases of probable fundamental rights violations in Member States which were raised.”

EU member states as well as the Commission sit on the Frontex management board. EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, has long pushed to strengthen rights oversight within Frontex.

EU countries have given Frontex additional money and powers since more than a million Syrian refugees reached Europe in 2015, overwhelming its reception and security capacity and fuelling far-right sentiment across the bloc.

As EU countries fought bitterly over letting in the mostly-Muslim people coming from the Middle East and Africa, migration became a hot-button political issue in the 27-nation bloc.

The EU has since restricted asylum and migrants’ rights, fortified its borders and sealed deals – criticised by rights groups – with countries including Turkey to keep people on their soil.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Jon Boyle, William Maclean

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