There are few institutions in a less enviable position than the embattled European Border and Coast Guard Agency, better known as Frontex. The agency, established in its present form after the peak of the European migrant invasion in 2016, has been criticized by virtually all sides involved in migration policy and migrant welfare. To compound its recent troubles, Frontex is now facing a lawsuit by well funded migrant friendly NGOs, demanding the head of its executive director, Fabrice Leggeri.
Frontex has been set up to monitor and to report on irregular migration facing Europe from the Middle East and Africa. Countries that have opted to protect their borders against illegal mass migration have accused the EU of using Frontex as a smokescreen for channelling migrants into the European mainland rather than helping to stop illegal border crossings. On the other side of the political spectrum, however, left-wing activist and governments have accused Frontex of violating the human rights of migrants and of failing to prevent others from doing so.
The systemic troubles of the agency stem from the fact that they have few real powers to act, and with virtually any activities they are involved in, they are courting controversy since their field of work involves the most divisive subject currently stirring in European politics.
The recent case involving the agency has involved a legal challenge by two left-wing activists, one of whom, Luisa Izuzquiza, is working for the Corporate Europe Observatory, partly funded by George Soros. During the transparency case, the court ruled in favor of Frontex, as a result of which the agency had demanded the reimbursement of its legal fees by the claimants. It is a fairly standard procedure to demand the repayment of legal expenses from the losing party, yet the two activists have flatly refused to pay the €24.000 owed to Frontex. On the contrary, finding a willing and sympathetic platform with the mainstream media, they have tried to portray the agency’s demand as intimidation and have claimed that such pressure will “deter people from exercising their fundamental right of access to information”.
As a possible counter strike against Frontex’s daring resistance to bow to pressure from pro-migration lobby groups, the agency has received a notice from lawyers Omer Shatz (co-founder of the NGO “We Are Refugees”) and Iftach Cohen (member of “Front-Lex”) representing human rights NGOs for being allegedly involved in illegal migrant boat pushbacks in the Mediterranean. The legal case involves several cases when Frontex personnel had witnessed intervention by the Greek Coast Guard, in which boats loaded with illegal migrants were turned back to their port of origin, i.e. Turkey.
According to the legal notice, Frontex should have broken off their mission if they have witnessed any violations of the migrants’ rights or found their lives to be in danger. Some have even accused the agency of being involved or at least complicit in human rights violations. Yet, the internal Frontex working group have found no illegal-rejections by the Greek authorities, and as far as the Frontex staff’s mission statement is concerned, the agency’s executive director, Fabrice Leggeri, has made it clear to his employees that they are “not an overpriced lifeguard service”.
The Greek Coast Guard have been accused of illegally turning back boats laden with migrants and thus violating their human rights, or even putting their lives in danger. Yet, according to currently valid European legislation, it is within the rights of a country to turn back illegal entries to a country where they are not facing persecution. Turkey has been deemed a safe country where migrants have no reasons to fear for their lives.
Furthermore, Frontex, or indeed any other coast guard boats, are not obliged to take migrants on board if their boat is not in danger of sinking or if they are not in dangerous weather. Migrant boats are often run by organized criminal networks and if human trafficking is suspected, coast guard boats have the right to turn them back to their port of origin, explained Leggeri to FAZ.
As Remix News have reported, last month Frontex withdrew from Hungary over allegations that the country is not implementing the European Court of Justice’s ruling, which accused it of illegal migrant pushbacks into Serbia. It is not clear why Frontex defends pushbacks to a safe country on the seas, while protesting against such procedures on the Hungarian-Serbian border. In the coming court case though they may be forced to clarify their own working criteria that makes them act in such a seemingly contradictory manner.