A scrutiny group established by the European Parliament to investigate the actions of EU border agency Frontex found that there was no conclusive evidence, from the restricted evidence analysed, of Frontex involvement in migrant pushbacks. In a report presented to the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee on Thursday morning, the Group’s Chair, EP Vice President Roberta Metsola presented conclusions from a four month fact-finding investigation about the alleged fundamental rights violations in the work of the border agency.
In line with its mandate the standing Frontex Scrutiny Working group has been tasked to carry out a fact-finding investigation, gathering all relevant information and evidence regarding alleged violations of fundamental rights in which the Agency was involved, internal management, procedures for reporting, and the handling of complaints. It did so by gathering information and documents from the Agency, Frontex Management Board, Frontex Consultative Forum, the European Ombudsman, coastguard officials, investigative journalists and the European Commission. A virtual mission of the Working Group to the Frontex Headquarters in Warsaw also took place.
Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola said that the European Parliament expected better from the Agency, particularly that concerns of fundamental rights violations are looked at in a timely and coherent manner. She also lamented that despite Parliament being unequivocal that the enlargement of agency has to be supported by a framework to protect fundamental rights, this regrettably did not happen, including the lack of appointment of persons to act as monitors in this area.
The EP Vice President said that EP political groups agreed to call for more responsibility by Member States and the European Commission not just on the Agency’s management board, but to step up their actions to combat violations of fundamental rights, supporting the agency in implementing its mandate, especially in terms of provision of staff and material and support for joint operational plans.
Frontex can get better and must get better, Metsola argued. “Frontex is an essential agency for the Union as it has the twin responsibility of protecting its borders and fundamental human rights. The Agency is here to stay, but it has to be designed in a way to reach citizens’ expectations”.
Rapporteur Tine Strik (Greens) said that although the Agency, from the information available, might not have taken part in pushbacks, it certainly witnessed human right violations by the Member States, including pushbacks. This included pushbacks by the Greek authorities in the Aegean sea, where the Greek coastguard escorted migrants on rubber dinghies back in Turkish waters, while removing the engines from the motorboats, putting the migrants in a very dangerous situation. Strik added that Frontex witnessed the episode, asked for clarifications, but failed to follow-up effectively on the matter, thus not ensuring that human rights violations are addressed.
She added that the Commission, as the guardian of the treaty, has been very silent on such issues, often accepting replies by national governments without looking into the issue further. All stakeholders, including Governments, the Commission and Member States should be more vocal and take allegations of human rights violations seriously. “Pushbacks are a huge problem and we must act quickly”. She expressed hope that the report will increase awareness and the level of urgency on the issue and that the necessary action is taken, but said that the report stopped short of calling for the resignation of the Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.
Metsola concluded that the ball is now in the court of the Agency, the European Commission and the Member States to follow-up on the recommendations of the group. If action fails to materialise, the European Parliament would be escalating the matter further.