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Investigation claims Frontex involved in Aegean sea migrant pushbacks

By Rhal Ssan  & Euronews
People arrive in a dinghy accompanied by Frontex vessels, on the Greek island of Lesbos   -   Copyright  Michael Varaklas/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

A new investigation claims that the European Border and Coast Guard Agency or Frontex has been involved in forcing back at least 957 asylum seekers in the Aegean sea between March 2020 and September 2021.

Pushing back people who enter EU territorial waters is illegal under the bloc's regulations and member state and international laws. 

However, a number of accusations against Greek authorities for carrying this out -- with the EU's border agency either knowing about it or giving consent -- have come to the fore since the first major migration crisis of 2015.

The latest joint investigation involving Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, SRF, Republik and Le Monde has discovered 22 incidents involving hundreds of migrants which Frontex formally registered as "preventions of departure".

"We’ve had access to the Frontex database called JORA, which (means) 'Joint Operation Reporting Application' where we can see that a lot of those operations were listed as ‘prevention of departure,'" Lighthouse Reports journalist Tomas Statius told Euronews.

According to Statius, the pushbacks follow a common scenario where the Greek border patrol returns the migrants to the open sea, even when they are found after landing on Greek territory.

"A migrant we interviewed actually claimed that the Greeks intercepted them on Greek soil, and then put them on a Greek boat and then left them in the Aegean in a small life raft," Statius said. 

"We can see in the pictures the same life raft, orange life raft where migrants were rescued by the Turkish coast guard." 

Frontex was aware of the pushback "because at the time there was a Frontex asset plane or drone, a helicopter that witnessed the scene from the sky actually," Statius explained.

The agency has defended itself by saying that it does not have the mandate to intervene or investigate an action that took place in a European country. The Greek authorities rejected all accusations as untrue without providing further details. 

However, Statius believes that as an EU agency that was given its mandate by the European Commission and the bloc's member states, Frontex -- founded in 2004 -- has to be asked about its true purpose.

“What we need to ask ourselves is, well, how long do we want to witness those pictures -- quite shocking ones -- and let the agency say it’s not its mandate to investigate or do anything about that," Statius concluded.

Watch the interview with Lighthouse Report journalist Tomas Statius in the player above.

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