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EU’s border chief resigns after reports of migrant pushbacks

BRUSSELS (AP) – The head of the European Union’s (EU) border agency resigned immediately on Friday, the bloc’s executive said. The move followed media allegations that his agency was involved in illegal pushbacks of migrants who were trying to reach Europe.

Pushbacks – forcing would-be refugees away from a border before they can reach a country and claim asylum – are considered violations of international refugee protection agreements, which said 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.

The EU Commission said it “takes note of the resignation” of Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri following a day of speculation about his fate. The announcement came after the board of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, known as Frontex, met on whether to accept his offer to resign.

Leggeri, who had been under mounting pressure to resign for months, offered to resign a day after a media investigation this week suggested that Frontex’s database recorded illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea as “prevention of departure” incidents. Leggeri had previously denied wrongdoing.

Last year, the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog, OLAF, opened an investigation into Frontex over allegations of harassment, misconduct and migrant pushbacks.

German Interior Ministry spokesperson Maximilian Kall said replacing Leggeri offers the border agency an opportunity for a “fresh start”.

“It offers the possibility of fully resolving the allegations, creating complete transparency and ensuring that all missions by Frontex occur in full conformity with European law,” he said.

The Commission said “Frontex fulfils a critically important task to support member states, manage common EU external borders, and to uphold fundamental rights in doing so.”

Leggeri had led Frontex since the 2015, when well over one million people, many of them refugees fleeing war in Syria, entered the bloc.

Executive Director of Frontex Fabrice Leggeri attends a meeting of European Union Interior Ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels. PHOTO: AP
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