EU coastguard boss quits after agency caught in pushbacks of migrant boats in Greece

Graham Charles Lear
6 min readMay 1, 2022

EU & French hypocrisy about migrant boats in the Channel

Several European media outlets worked together for months — below is what they found out

After the way the UK Government has been accused of planning ‘inhumane’ and ‘illegal’ responses to the crisis of tens of thousands of illegal migrants crossing the English Channel, what follows will leave many readers speechless.

On Friday the Executive Director of the EU’s Border and Coastguard Agency (Frontex), Frenchman Fabrice Leggeri, abruptly quit with immediate effect. He did so after a major report was published by several EU and international news organisations which revealed clear evidence of his EU agency’s complicity in a ‘pushback’ policy being pursued in the Aegean Sea over many months.

Migrant boats were pushed back, landed migrants have even been put in dinghies and cast adrift

The report says that Greek border guards have been forcing large numbers of refugees back to sea in operations that violate international law. The evidence gathered in the damning report includes many examples.

  • 222 incidents in the Aegean, resulting in the summary expulsion of at least 957 and potentially 8,355 migrants
  • Migrant boats have been physically prevented from entering Greek waters
  • When they were found in Greek waters they were pushed back to the Turkish side
  • In some cases, migrants who had already landed were put in dinghies and cast adrift
  • Greek and EU authorities wrongly described these operations in their database as “Preventions of Departure”
  • A cover-up by Frontex — the EU’s border and coastguard agency — of human rights violations
  • A cover-up of international maritime law violations
  • Frontex and the Greek coastguard deny all the accusations
  • The mainstream journalists involved have documentary evidence gathered over many months

EU Border Agency boss quits, EU to take no further action

On Thursday and Friday, the Management Board of the EU’s border and coastguard agency met in an emergency session.

I managed to obtain a copy of the outcome of this EGM. In what follows it should be noted that in addition to financial fraud the EU Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) investigates ‘alleged serious misconduct’ of individuals and EU agencies.

Frontex Management Board conclusions from the meeting of 28–29 April 2022:

“In view of the European Anti-Fraud Office’s (OLAF) investigations against three staff members of Frontex including the Agency’s Executive Director, the Frontex Management Board met on 28 and 29 April 2022 for an extraordinary meeting in order to decide on the next steps. At this meeting, the Executive Director … declared his resignation from all his functions with immediate effect and his intention to terminate his employment in the Agency…. In view of the Executive Director’s resignation, the Management Board decided that launching further proceedings against the Executive Director… is not necessary anymore, since the outcome of these proceedings will no longer affect the position of the Executive Director.”

Ex-boss accuses EU of turning its border agency into ‘human rights organisation’

Fabrice Leggeri, now the ex-boss of Frontex, effectively ‘walked the plank’ on Thursday and resigned with immediate effect. Below are excerpts from a departing email he sent to Frontex’s 2,000 staff, obtained by Der Spiegel.

“All along the last two years, I can see that discretely and efficiently, a narrative is overwhelming our environment. This narrative tells the story that Frontex’s core mandate should be transformed in practice into a sort of Fundamental Rights Body…”

- Fabrice Leggeri, former head of Frontex, 29 Apr 2022

Events in Greece versus attacks on the UK by the French, the EU, and British Rejoiner MPs

The French, the EU, and British Rejoiner MPs condemned the UK Government’s plans to turn back boats to France, now dropped.

Last year French Interior Minister — and Priti Patel’s opposite number — Gérald Darmanin immediately warned that the UK’s plans were “contrary to maritime law”, which states that people at risk of dying at sea must be rescued.

“Safeguarding human lives at sea takes priority over considerations of nationality, status and migratory policy, out of strict respect for the international maritime law governing search and rescue at sea.”

- Gérald Darmanin, French Interior Minister, 09 Sept 2021

“The government is determined to prevent these crossings, but pushbacks are not the solution.”

- Harriet Harman MP, Chairwoman, Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights, 01 Dec 2021

The UK Government has now abandoned these plans in favour of a policy of sending illegal migrants to Rwanda for processing.

The EU has serious questions to answer

I have been aware for years of stories coming from Greece of potentially illegal actions in dealing with its continuing illegal migrant crisis.

Now there is a serious report with evidence from reputable news organisations who have had the funding to investigate this over many months. This story was run by Der Spiegel, Le Monde, German state broadcaster ARD, Swiss magazine Republik, Lighthouse Reports, Bellingcat, and Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi.

The reporters tracked the positions of Frontex units and compared them with position data from pushbacks recorded by NGOs and migrants. They interviewed witnesses, refugees and Frontex staff. They viewed internal documents and dozens of videos and satellite photos.

There seems little doubt that the EU — and the Greeks — have serious questions to answer.

And has anyone mentioned the hypocrisy of the EU in attacking the UK over its own plans?

Priti Patel and the Home Office have looked at each and every way to prevent the growing armada of boats containing illegal migrants departing the shores of northern France in rapidly escalating numbers, making for the United Kingdom. The lack of any progress in stemming this tide has been deeply frustrating for the majority of the British public.

Despite the tens of millions of pounds thrown at the French, they seem unable — or perhaps unwilling — to take the steps necessary to secure their northern border.

Last year the UK Government’s plan was to turn these boats around. This attracted howls of criticism from the French, the EU, Rejoiner MPs, and ‘human rights organisations in the UK and elsewhere.

Now we find that the Greeks — with the complicity of the EU’s own border and coastguard agency — have been carrying out these operations for the last two years. The journalists working on this story even found cases where migrants had landed in Greece and were then put into small dinghies and set adrift.

So far one head has rolled — by his own volition — and Fabrice Leggeri will not be held accountable. His accusation against the EU, however, for changing the mandate of its border agency with no discussion or agreement, might be a story that runs and runs.

Here is just one report

https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/eu-affairs/turkey-rescues-migrants-left-to-die-on-deserted-island-by-greece

Turkish drones recorded Greek authorities leaving irregular migrants to die on a deserted island. Following the incident, the migrants were rescued by Turkish coast guard units.

According to a Defense Ministry statement, drones used to detect forest fires in Turkey’s south and west noticed that the LS-134 vessel belonging to the Greek coast guard approached Turkey’s Başak Island, south of Kaş in the Mediterranean.

After following up on the information, it was determined that the irregular immigrants on the Greek coast guard’s boat were left on Başak Island, where they had no chance of survival.

While the events were being monitored by the drones, Turkish Coast Guard Command units were immediately directed to the region to rescue the immigrants who had been abandoned to die.

Sources: EU Commission | Frontex | Der Spiegel | Le Monde | German state broadcaster ARD | Swiss magazine Republik | French Interior Ministry | Hansard ]

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Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.