Nongovernmental organizations have launched a campaign demanding the abolition of the European Union's border agency, Frontex, amid reports about the agency's role in human rights violations against migrants and migrant pushbacks from the EU border toward Turkish territorial waters in the Aegean Sea.
The "Abolish Frontex" network, which consists of dozens of organizations, wants the EU border agency Frontex to be dissolved on the grounds that it causes deaths and human rights violations. The group, which sent this request to EU institutions in a letter last week, plans to organize events in many countries on World Refugee Day.
The letter written by the "Abolish Frontex" network to the governments of EU member states, the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament and the Frontex administration includes the following statements: "At least 740 people have died so far this year while trying to cross the Mediterranean in search of a safe place. The EU's border regime has often pushed them to resort to dangerous migration routes with unsuitable vehicles; it has tasked neighboring countries to stop these people en route; subjected to thrusts or left to drown at sea, refusing to rescue."
It is stated in the letter that these lives were lost because of "the EU's obsession to strengthen its borders instead of protecting people," and it is stated that "the EU has blood on its hands."
According to a statement on the network's website, due to Europe's border policies, approximately 45,000 people have drowned at sea, been shot at the borders, committed suicide or were killed in the countries they were sent back to since 1993.
"Frontex is responsible for systematic human rights violations," it said.
The group, which describes the EU's border policies as "racist," says it is time to abolish Frontex and the system it represents.
Meanwhile, dozens of human rights advocates briefly blocked Croatia’s border with Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday to protest the European Union’s migration policies.
The protesters demanded that Frontex be dismantled and countries end their pushbacks of migrants trying to reach Western Europe. Waving banners reading “Stop deportation,” or “No human is illegal,” they parked cars at the border and shouted slogans against EU policies.
Francesco Cibati, from a rights group based in Trieste, Italy, said protesters came to demand that everyone be granted the right to seek asylum. He said organizations from Spain, Germany, France, Austria and Slovenia supported the protest.
“European Union is violently pushing back people and the Croatian police are doing that on behalf of the European Union, paid by the European Union," he said. "So we are here to protest this situation, which is intolerable.”
Migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Mideast, Africa or Asia come to the Balkans by first arriving in Turkey, then slipping into Greece or Bulgaria before moving on toward North Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Frontex has come under heavy fire due to accusations of involvement or complicity in pushbacks, often in the Aegean Sea, but the agency denies the allegations. An internal probe this year found no evidence that Frontex was involved in pushbacks listed in reports made public by a media consortium last October.
In early December, EU lawmakers lashed out at Frontex's executive director over allegations that the agency helped illegally stop migrants entering Europe and supported the Greek coast guard to push migrants back toward Turkish territorial waters in the Aegean Sea, calling for his resignation and demanding an independent inquiry.
The lawmakers grilled Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri over an investigation in October by several international media outlets, which said video and other publicly available data suggests 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.
While the border agency is required to rescue migrants, the Frontex vessels patrolling the area sped past the overcrowded, inflatable boats, creating dangerous waves to force them to return to Turkish shores. A Frontex aircraft was also documented passing over migrants seeking help at sea but did not rescue them.
Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which say people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality or membership in a social or political group.
Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for migrants aiming to cross into Europe, fleeing war and persecution to start new lives. Turkey has also accused Greece of large-scale pushbacks and summary deportations without access to asylum procedures, which is a violation of international law. It also accuses the EU of turning a blind eye to what it says is a blatant abuse of human rights.
The European Parliament has launched its own investigation and is expected to release its findings in the coming months. The EU’s anti-fraud agency has also been probing allegations of mismanagement at Frontex.
EU member states were involved in pushing back some 40,000 migrants and refugees into Turkish waters, resulting in the deaths of over 2,000 individuals during the pandemic, according to a recent report.
The report noted that EU countries and their border agency Frontex systematically pushed back irregular migrants, including children, “using illegal tactics ranging from assault to battery during detention or transportation.”
Following the news, the Council of Europe last month urged Greece to end its practice of pushing irregular migrants back from its borders toward Turkey and launched a probe into the allegations.
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