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EU border agency Frontex criticised by NGOs for photo competition

Refugees and migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by Frontex vessels on the Greek island of Lesbos in February 2020.
Refugees and migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by Frontex vessels on the Greek island of Lesbos in February 2020. Copyright AP Photo/Micheal Varaklas
Copyright AP Photo/Micheal Varaklas
By The Cube
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NGOs have described the competition as a "Contest of Shame" and published photos that they say "reflect the reality of the situation"


Frontex, the EU's border force, has been strongly criticised for holding an international "photo competition" to showcase the agency's operations.

The agency had asked its staff to submit images of Frontex operations to commemorate Europe Day on Sunday.

But the competition generated significant backlash online, with many NGOs condemning the vote as a "contest of shame".

Many used social media to share photos they said "reflect the reality of the situation" for migrants attempting to reach Europe.

Particular criticism was focused on the photo category "A helping hand at the border", which included entries of Frontex rescue operations.

"Here are some actual suggestions, straight from the world’s deadliest border you have helped to create," said Sea-Watch International on Twitter.

The organisation uploaded one picture, claiming to show a Frontex aircraft co-operating with the Libyan Coast Guard during an illegal push-back of two refugee boats.

"The illegal systematic cooperation of Frontex with Libya is proven, just like the deadly consequences," Sea-Watch added.

"We find this competition a complete joke," said Jacob Warn, field coordinator for the grassroots movement, Europe Must Act.

Another photo published by #LeaveNoOneBehind depicted a refugee family spending "several nights outside" after being pushed back by Croatian border police in 2020.

In March, an inquiry into claims that Frontex was involved in illegally pushing back migrants found no proof of its involvement. However, a full investigation into the claims was not completed. No further details were released.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Frontex said the probe "misrepresents" the agency's role in the central Mediterranean and that its priority in any potential search and rescue is to save lives.

"In the central Mediterranean region this means that any time a Frontex plane spots a boat in distress, it immediately alerts the national rescue centres in the region: Italy, Malta, Libya, and Tunisia," the agency said.

"Frontex does not coordinate search and rescue operations," it added.

Euronews has contacted Frontex for a statement in response to the criticism of their recent photo competition.

The agency had also asked its employees for other photos showing "cooperation with national authorities" and scenic "frontier landscapes". The winners of the competition were voted on via Facebook.

"Frontex should rather focus on transparency, implementing a working complaint mechanism and an independent human rights monitoring than wasting their resources and time with a photo contest that tries to pretend that the situation at the European borders is well managed," said Heike Gumz, Campaign Coordinator from Europe Must Act in a statement.

"We are calling on Europe - its citizens and leaders - to stand up for fundamental rights and the rule of law".

Additional sources • AP

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