Lawyers give EU agency notice over Greece migrant pushbacks

BARCELONA, SPAIN (AP) — Human rights lawyers have called on Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (CGA), to immediately stop its activities in the Aegean Sea and formally accused the agency of violating the rights of migrants to seek asylum, as well as other breaches of European Union (EU) and international law.

The preliminary action filed by Front-Lex, a legal hub challenging EU migration policies, and Legal Center Lesvos, a non-profit organisation providing legal assistance to migrants in Greece, was sent on Monday to Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.

He has two months to respond before the groups take the case to the European Court of Justice.

Frontex denies any wrongdoing, although Leggeri has faced growing pressure to step down from his position.

Greece has also repeatedly denied it carries out illegal pushbacks of asylum-seekers.

In a 34-page document, the lawyers accuse Frontex of not only failing to report collective expulsions carried out by Greece at sea but also directly participating in Greece’s illegal pushback of asylum-seekers trying to cross from Turkey by boat, violating “fundamental rights and international protection obligations”, and putting the migrants’ lives at risk.

Pushbacks or collective expulsions are when groups of migrants are forcibly returned across a border without having the chance to seek asylum. They are considered contrary to the international refugee law principle of non-refoulement, 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. Pushbacks are also prohibited under EU human rights law.

The legal groups, in a statement citing Frontex’s own regulations, said the executive director must grant their request and is obliged to withdraw “financing for any activity by the agency, or suspend or terminate any activity by the agency, in whole or in part, if he or she considers that there are violations of fundamental rights” that are “of a serious nature or are likely to persist”.

Migrants from the eastern Aegean islands wait to board on buses at the port of Lavrio, south of Athens. PHOTO: AP