At the Greek-Turkish border, the European Agency for controlling the external borders, Frontex, is taking part in a process that prevents refugees from benefitting from international protection. The latest report of the FRONTEXIT Campaign, “Frontex between Greece and Turkey: The Border of Denial”, underlines the dramatic consequences of the intensification of surveillance at that border (push-backs, lack of access to the asylum procedure, physical and verbal violence, etc.), and also the Agency’s lack of accountability.
On the basis of dozens of testimonies and numerous exchanges with Frontex, the report documents the serious Human Rights violations committed in this centre of gravity of the Agency’s operations. The Council of Europe, the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, as well as numerous civil society organisations have recently expressed their deep concern regarding the violations committed at that border.
For while the Agency and the European Union take pride in the increasing number of interceptions in the Aegean sea during recent months, the official statistics say nothing of the policy’s deadly consequences: Since September 2012 our organisations have listed 18 shipwrecks, at least 191 deaths and over 30 missing. The majority of the victims are Syrian, Afghan, and Eritrean refugees, including many families and children. If their embarkations had succeeded in reaching the shores of the European Union they would certainly have been granted asylum.
Many testimonies have confirmed the practice of collective expulsions (push-backs): Migrants’ boats are intercepted and towed to Turkey by the Greek coastguards, often with violence and without the refugees having been identified, which is contrary to international law. The report also gives instances of ‘deterrent’ practices aimed at forcing back the migrants’ embarkations.
“Instead of taking measures to receive the refugees, the European Union, through Frontex, has persisted in an intolerable policy of closure, aiming at preventing at all costs the refugees from reaching the European coasts” said Karim Lahidji, FIDH president.
According to a document received by our organisations from the Agency, Frontex had been informed of 27 reports of collective expulsions, and of problems of access to the asylum procedure, acts of violence, and inhuman and degrading treatment. Despite such violations, the Agency continues to provide logistic support for the operations (vessels, aircraft, thermal cameras, coastguard training, identification of migrants’ nationalities).
“By continuing such activities on this border, although it knew of the proven and repeated violations, the Agency is in fact an accomplice” declared Olivier Clochard, Migreurop president.
Lastly, the report highlights the lack of transparency, in particular the lack of access to the complete operational plans (the legal basis for the Agency’s operations), and the difficulty of making Frontex accountable for the implementation of the actions it coordinates. Frontex has also rejected a recommendation of the European mediator calling for the setting up of a mechanism for complaints against the Agency and its agents.
“This response confirms the Agency’s unwillingness to be held accountable as coordinator of the operations deployed at the European Union’s external borders”