Violence and torture – anything is possible at EU borders

The EU border protection agency Frontex conceals human rights violations and deceives the public. That must now have urgent consequences.

At the EU’s external borders, people are systematically and illegally turned back, beaten, tortured and abandoned at sea. People are drowning because emergency calls are not answered and Islamist militias are paid with EU money to prevent people from fleeing Libya, a country with a civil war. Dozens of articles researched that state-organized human rights violations at the EU’s external borders now have the upper hand. There are photos, videos, eyewitness reports and victims.

In Greece in particular, the situation has worsened over the past year. There is no longer any doubt that refugees are left defenseless and in distress at sea, that people are deported without the rule of law and with the use of violence, and that this is not a mishap, but the goal of some EU countries.

(Source: private)
Erik Marquardt is MEP and asylum policy spokesman for Bündnis90 / die Grünen and a member of the Frontex investigation group of the European Parliament. Before becoming an MEP, he worked as a photographer and reported on escape routes to Europe. Marquardt has actively participated in sea rescue missions in the Mediterranean. On July 20, his book “Europe abolishes” will be published by Rowohlt Verlag.

In order to enforce isolation, EU governments are not only ready to break the dignity and fundamental rights of people, they also lie to us MEPs in the European Parliament. That became clear again in a four-month investigation by the Frontex investigation group, of which I am a member and their report was presented this Thursday.

Greek government propaganda show

In the Night from April 18th to 19th, 2020 A Frontex reconnaissance aircraft flew over the eastern Mediterranean and watched people seeking refuge being rescued by a ship belonging to the Greek coast guard. The coast guard ship pulls an empty rubber dinghy behind it. Two hours later, a Frontex aircraft observed how those seeking protection were brought onto the empty rubber dinghy and the boat’s engine was dismantled. A speedboat with masked men is already waiting and pulling the unmaneuverable rubber dinghy into Turkish waters. A Turkish boat is not nearby, people are left on the water. The events are recorded in detail in a leaked report from Frontex.

In a terrifying propaganda show, the Greek government tirelessly claims that all reports of pushbacks through Greece were falsified by Turkey and is silent about the fact that Frontex has also recorded such operations on video. However, in our meetings of the EU Parliament’s investigation group, it also became clear that it is becoming increasingly difficult to monitor the behavior of the Greek border authorities. Human rights organizations were banned from being active in the Aegean Sea and even Frontex aircraft and ships were repeatedly asked to leave the site so that they could no longer observe how the illegal rejections were taking place.

Why do you need this agency?

Frontex aerial surveillance was completely discontinued in May 2020. One looks in vain for a credible justification that allows any other conclusion than that looking away serves to cover up human rights violations. Frontex is currently endowed with billions of euros and is to have a standing army of 10,000 employees. Reports of human rights violations, at which Frontex looks the other way, do not fit into the planning.

Even if parts of Frontex wanted to draw attention to human rights violations in some cases, it turns out that wherever there are allegations of human rights violations, Frontex looks the other way, twists facts and breaks off operations in order not to generate publicly available information about the crimes. Why do you need this agency when it is sent away wherever missions take place?

Only flimsy reasons

Frontex does not serve for effective border controls in accordance with human rights, but rather to conceal human rights violations. Reports are delayed or destroyed, legal assessments distorted and the executive director Fabrice Leggeri creates the public impression that everything is in perfect order. And he claims in all seriousness that refugees on rubber dinghies simply voluntarily go back in the other direction because it suddenly occurs to them on the water that they do not want to apply for asylum after all. Such absurd protective claims are attempted to disguise pushbacks. There are also allegations of mismanagement and corruption in the EU agency, which is why the EU anti-fraud authority is investigating Frontex.

Fabrice Leggeri 2019: His agency knew about human rights violations by Greek border guards.  (Source: imago images / John Smith)Fabrice Leggeri 2019: His agency knew about human rights violations by Greek border guards. (Source: John Smith / imago images)

The Greek government is meanwhile trying – also because of the overwhelming evidence – to supplement its strategy of denial. In the meantime, the pushbacks are no longer denied, but claims are made that they are legal. The obviously illegal could perhaps be legal after all. Court judgments that take years to reach a decision can be waited for now. The Greek migration minister recently claimed that you have every right to intercept rubber dinghies and that the legal basis for this is contained in the EU external sea border regulation (regulation (ME) No. 656/2014). He doesn’t seem to be interested in the fact that interception is only possible if nobody wants to apply for asylum on a rubber dinghy and even then people have to be brought ashore before they can be handed over to the authorities in their country of origin.

Frontal attack on human dignity

And so, on the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Refugee Convention, not only the core of international asylum law – the non-refoulement requirement – is being overridden every day in Europe. The dignity of refugees and other basic human rights are also being attacked head-on.

The EU Commission avoids initiating infringement proceedings that could lead to faster case law. One looks in vain for EU governments that publicly criticize this development. The German federal government also allows Interior Minister Seehofer, who participates in the concealment tactic and hinders the investigation in the Frontex board of directors.

Frontex boss prevents clarification

Fabrice Leggeri has lied to us MEPs several times and is actively preventing the cases from being dealt with. Nevertheless, the EU member states are sticking to it. If the EU member states really want an improvement in Frontex, then they must at least appoint a new executive director. But at the moment it looks as if they are more likely to work towards getting used to the ever new scandals at the border protection.

It is often said that the EU cannot agree on a common asylum policy. If you take a closer look at the external borders, the opposite becomes clear. The EU states have agreed on a policy – it’s just not a rule of law or humane policy. It degrades people and causes many deaths in the Mediterranean. The aim is to reduce the number of asylum applications – no matter what the cost – and be it human lives.

These policies not only attack the dignity of refugees, but also the principles of our liberal democracies. When laws don’t matter, when governments deny facts, then one is dangerously wrong. At the external borders it is also decided how our democracy and fundamental rights are going. Because how we deal with the weakest shows how strong we are.

The views expressed in the guest post reflect the opinion of the author and do not necessarily correspond to those of the t-online editorial team.

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