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Activist Group Says EU Border Patrol Hiding Greek Refugee Pushbacks

ATHENS — The European Union's border patrol Frontex hasn't revealed Greece is allegedly pushing back refugees and migrants trying to get into the country, especially at sea from Turkey, Human Rights Watch said.

The group said Frontex, which was being probed by the EU and under fire from the European Parliament for its role on Greek land and sea borders, may have been complicit in pushback abuses, which the New Democracy government denied.

HRW said that documents of a Frontex internal investigation, obtained by the German transparency group FragDenStaat  (Ask The State) and shared with the EUobserver raised questions about the agency probing itself.

“The documents also raise questions about the way the agency handled and investigated these allegations. There’s a troubling similarity between these incidents and many others documented by independent groups and media outlets in recent years,” said HRW.

Reports from 2020, including from Human Rights Watch, recorded multiple incidents in which Greek coast guard personnel, sometimes accompanied by armed masked men, intercepted, attacked, disabled, and pushed back boats carrying migrants, the group added.

The report also failed to look into violent pushbacks at Greece’s land border with Turkey, where Frontex has deployed officers for over a decade, the complaint went on.

“The EU Commission has fundamental responsibilities that cannot be shirked. It cannot tolerate the failure to address allegations of pushbacks and violence against people, including those seeking protection, at the EU’s borders,” it added.

In December, 2020, after saying he could find no evidence that Greece or the Frontex  he oversees were pushing refugees and migrants back toward Turkey, Fabrice Leggeri found EU lawmakers demanding he quit.

Human rights groups, activists and a range of investigative media reports also claimed Greece's Coast Guard has pushed refugees and migrants in dinghies and rickety craft in the Aegean back toward Turkey or sent them back through land borders along the Evros River.

Greece's New Democracy denied it happened and Leggeri in October said there wasn't any proof but the row intensified, including allegations that Frontex, which helps patrol the bords including in the Aegean, helped to unlawfully stop migrants or refugees from entering the EU, which had closed its borders to them.

Members of the European Parliament called for Leggeri's resignation or firing and demanded an independent inquiry but there was no reaction from the EU commissioner in charge of refugee and migrant affairs – Margaritis Schinas from New Democracy.

Leggeri was grilled over an investigation in October by media outlets Bellingcat, Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, ARD and TV Asahi, which said video and other public data suggested Frontex “assets were actively involved in one pushback incident at the Greek-Turkish maritime border in the Aegean Sea.”

The report said personnel from the agency, which monitors and polices migrant movements around Europe’s borders, were present at another incident and “have been in the vicinity of four more since March.” Frontex launched an internal probe after the news broke.

“In his handling of these allegations, Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri has completely lost our trust and it is time for him to resign,” senior Socialist lawmaker Kati Piri said after the parliamentary civil liberties committee hearing. “There are still far too many unanswered questions on the involvement of Frontex in illegal practices,” she said.

Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which say people shouldn't be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality or being members of a social or political group.

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