Frontex boss Leggeri cannot refute the allegations before the Bundestag’s Interior Committee: the EU is driving refugee boats back to the high seas to avoid the asylum procedure.
The hole in the wall of the rubber boat is the size of a fist. One of the boat occupants presses his hand on it so that not so much air escapes. From now on, capsizing is no longer just a danger, from now on the 19 refugees have to somehow delay the safe capsizing of their boat. The video that a 16-year-old shot of the dramatic situation is on the Internet alongside several others showing how refugee boats are shipwrecked in the Aegean Sea. And they show who destroyed the boats beforehand – stabbing the air chamber, hitting the engine.
Masked people who approach the refugees in speedboats force them to turn back through such chicane. They should leave Greek waters, and if possible unnoticed. Because actually those who sit in the mostly overcrowded boats are already entitled to apply for asylum in the European Union – and to a procedure. The aim of the attacks is to drive the boats back into Turkish waters, beyond the EU’s external border. The method is called “pushback”, it is illegal and dangerous. On the open sea, with broken boats that are unable to maneuver, people endanger their lives.
Even if the attackers hide behind masks on the speedboats, there is much to suggest that they are carrying out their attacks with the approval of the Greek coast guard. Because the act itself is very questionable, as emerged from a report by German federal police officers last August. The Germans patrol the Aegean Sea as part of the European border protection agency Frontex in order to monitor the EU’s external border. Their observations alarmed not only human rights organizations, but also many federal politicians.
On August 10th last year, the police discovered a boat with 40 refugees in the sea off the Greek island of Samos. They informed the coast guard and stayed nearby for half an hour until the Greek ship called arrived. The last thing the federal police saw was refugees boarding the coast guard. The German observers were accordingly astonished when not a single refugee disembarked when the Greeks returned to the port. They reported the incident. It indicates a pushback, because that same night the boat was discovered again in the Turkish part of the Aegean and secured by the local authorities.
From “not convincing” to “absolutely absurd”
The Greek side explains the incident as follows: When the coast guard ship almost reached the refugee boat, it turned around and headed back to Turkey. However, this contradicts the representation of the German police officers, who had seen how people got on board. The Greeks can hardly convince anyone in Berlin who deals with the topic of migration and border politics with this declaration: Not the green expert Luise Amtsberg, who fears an illegal pushback here, not the SPD expert Frank Schwabe, who claims the declaration as ” absolutely absurd “evaluates. Not even the Union expert Josef Oster, for whom the presentation is “not convincing”.
Only one person seems to be happy with the Greek version: Fabrice Leggeri, Director of Frontex. Greece had assured him that it would not violate any rules, Leggeri told the “Welt” in an interview. He had previously told the EU Parliament’s Interior Committee that there was no evidence of involvement – directly or indirectly – in pushbacks by Frontex.
But that is exactly what it would be about if the Greeks drove or pulled the refugee boat back into Turkish waters against the will of the people. In that case, the federal police officers would also be involved in the illegal practice on behalf of Frontex by – completely correctly – informing the coast guard of the position of the boat. To protect German police officers from being involved in human rights violations without wanting to, the Greens and the SPD are demanding better clarification through Frontex.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, however, did not demand that for a long time. As recently as November, a spokeswoman for the ministry, when asked about the August incident, was unable to understand how the journalists discovered “that this was an illegal pushback”. Schwabe calls it in an interview with ntv.de that she “pressured around” and demands, if Seehofer is reported such an incident, “then he has to sound the alarm. He has to demand that Greece clarify this immediately. And if so not, then we are no longer there. “
The EU must change the structure of Frontex
After all, after a tough struggle between the parliamentary groups for months, Frontex boss Leggeri was involved in the interior committee on Wednesday. The director replied in detail, but evidently not very specifically. The Grünes Amtsberg feels that its skepticism towards the EU agency is confirmed and is pushing for Frontex to be structurally changed. The Greens are not against border guards, which are important to fight crime, she said after the committee meeting. “But it has to be in line with human rights and permeable to people who need protection.” If this is not the case, “the Frontex mandate must be called into question”.
Union politician Oster draws from the survey, among other things, the realization that clearer rules are necessary on how to deal with cases like the one in August. “Too often the local officials get into an unclear situation,” he tells ntv.de, “that’s not good when it comes to establishing an effective European border guard.” The EU must define more clearly what Frontex is allowed to do and what is not, also in relation to the member states.
To monitor human rights in border guards, the EU decided months ago to employ 40 fundamental rights observers to monitor compliance with the law. Leggeri had until December 5th, no one has been hired yet. The EU Commission is now increasing the pressure on Leggeri, the EU anti-fraud authority OLAF is investigating and the Frontex boss also had to explain this to the Berlin Interior Committee. He agreed that the inspectors should come in the spring. That is not the solution to the problems, but by Leggeri’s standards a first step towards it would also be remarkable.