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There is no longer any doubt

Aegean Boat Report have been documenting pushbacks and from the Aegean Sea and the Greek Aegean islands for years, performed by Greek authorities.

For this we have been frequently targeted, unfounded investigations initiated by authorities have been “leaked” to Greek press, a scare tactic to get us to back off. The Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis has several times put forward allegations of human trafficking and espionage, without any evidence of such crimes, because none of the allegations are true.

Nevertheless, with Greek media in his pocket, these attacks have been published without question, and without Greek journalists from the papers publishing these articles even once contacting us so we could comment on these unfounded accusations.

Yesterday, the investigation by European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), on allegations of misconduct within Frontex in connection with human rights violations at the EU’s external borders was published, not by the European Commission, but by investigative journalists from Spiegel.

The report was so damaging when it came out that it was deemed classified, and was only presented to selected members of the ‘Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs’ (LIBE) Parliamentary Committee, while the public was kept in the dark.

For almost 8 months this report has been known by members of parliament, but nothing has been done. Fragments of the report were later published in international press, after investigative journalists from Der Spiegel got hold of a copy of it.

According to these fragments, human rights violations had been committed in the Aegean Sea by Greek authorities with assistance from Frontex. After the leaked information was published, the Executive Director of Frontex, Fabricio Leggeri resigned. He was well aware of what he had done, and at least had the “common decency” to abandon ship before it went down. The same cannot be said of others involved in this cover up in the commission.

After reading the 123 page report, it’s quite astonishing that EU so far, after almost 8 months, has taken no action against the Greek government. It is quite clear that pushbacks and violence at Greek borders are widespread, systematic and a de facto policy of keeping refugees out of the Europe.

It must also be said that the Greek government carried out its own investigation into the allegations of pushbacks and human rights violations, finding no evidence on either. Not a very surprising result, since the criminal is investigating its own crimes. The investigation was carried out by Greece’s National Transparency Authority (NTA), that supposed to be independent, this is not the case, NTA has close ties to the right-wing ruling party in Greece, New Democracy (ND), and it’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The OLAF report gives indisputable evidence not only of Frontex’s mismanagement under Leggeri, but also of human rights violations and maritime pushbacks by the Greek authorities, who leave refugees adrift in inflatable life rafts in the Aegean, still routinely dismissed by the Greek government as “fake news” and Turkish propaganda.

The findings in the OLAF report leave absolutely no opportunity for the Greek authorities to deny pushbacks, nor to continue to cover them up. Over the last years the majority of Greek press has eagerly defended their government against allegations on pushbacks. It will be interesting to see how they now will follow this up, after the publication of this report.

In the past any attempt to hold Greek authorities responsible for pushbacks and human rights violations has been dismissed as Turkish propaganda, with people claiming that those publishing these reports have been influenced and even paid by Turkey to undermine the Greek authorities. That will not fly this time that’s for sure.

The publication of the OLAF investigation is a huge blow for the Greek authorities, who to this day have categorically denied any involvement in pushbacks and human rights abuses. So far, there has been no comment on this report by Greek officials. The Greek press is also unusually quiet, and mainstream media haven’t mentioned it at all, if the press had been truly independent in Greece, this would have spread like wildfire, as “breaking news”. But it has not, and we can only wonder why.

Some of the findings in the report have, as I mentioned, been previously published, but when reading it – and you should – it’s mind blowing how the management of Frontex has systematically, over several years, covered up violations performed by the Greek authorities.

That nobody responsible in the Commission has so far been forced to resign, is a cause for concern and shows that nobody is taking any real responsibility in one of the biggest scandals in the Commission’s history.

That none of those responsible in the Commission are held responsible, and left office for serious misconduct, especially Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, Vice President for ‘Protecting our European Way of Life’ Maragaritas Schinas, and indeed the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, raise questions that hopefully will be answered in the coming weeks.

The new Executive Director of Frontex, Aija Kalnaja, appointed after Leggeri’s resignation in April 2022, seems keen to putting all problems behind her, and focus on the future of Frontex, without doing a proper clean-up. To put a new leadership in to continue as is, with the same culture, structure and systems that are now proven to be used in systemic human rights abuses for years, will only mean that it’s business as usual for Frontex. This is not acceptable.

And the practice is still ongoing, Frontex is continuing its support of the Greek government, assisting them in these violations. It’s a case of new management, same practice.

There is no longer any doubt that Frontex has over several years been involved in, observed, and covered-up repeated serious violations of human rights in Greece, and that Greek authorities systematically violate international laws and human rights on their borders on an industrial scale, putting human lives at risk in the name of ‘border management’.

In a statement made today, Frontex’ Executive Management board simply proved it does not recognise with any clarity the agency’s fundamental problems. It appears to refuse to take in the gravity and seriousness of the situation they have put themselves in, behaving as if all its problems will disappear because it now has a new manager.

We are afraid we must say that what has become the culture in Frontex is like cancer. It has been allowed to grow unchecked. It must be cut out, or the ’patient’ will die, even as it literally kills men, women and children on Greece’s borders.

From the information now revealed, Frontex has only one option, to invoke article 46 of Regulation (EU) 2019/1896 to terminate its operations at the Greece-Turkey border, and immediately stop all financial support to all operations in Greece.

Furthermore, if Frontex should continue to exist, a serious restructuring of the organisation and its mandate is not only necessary, but crucial to its existence.

Frontex’ reputation is not only damaged, it’s destroyed.

The EU Commission must also take actions against the Greek government, economic sanctions until Greek authorities can once again document and prove that rule of law is reinstated.

The head of Frontex resigned, it’s now time for the Greek government to do the same. Its systematic abuse of power has no place in a European democracy.

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