FRONTEX

EU border agency dismisses director, source says after accusations of rights abuse

EU border agency dismisses director, source says after accusations of rights abuse

The European Union’s border agency dismissed its director Fabrice Leggeri, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday, after years of accusations that the body mistreated migrants on the external frontiers of the bloc.

Frontex spokesman Pior Switalski declined to comment earlier in the day on Leggeri offering his resignation and did not respond to a follow-up question on whether it had been approved.

The board was discussing “specific difficulties” at Frontex and would comment after wrapping up in the afternoon, the Commission said.

Leggeri, who in the past dismissed the accusations, was not immediately available for comment.

The EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF launched an investigation last year into allegations of human rights violations by Frontex, an agency tasked with managing migration on the bloc’s external frontiers. OLAF’s report has not been made public.

Erik Marquardt, a German lawmaker in the European Parliament with the Greens’ faction, said on March 2 that the summary of the report “reveals that Frontex’s management was aware of human rights violations and deliberately avoided reporting them.”

In 2021, the European Parliament published its own report into allegations that Frontex was involved in so-called pushbacks, including in the Aegean Sea between EU member Greece and Turkey.

Pushbacks violate the EU’s obligations under international humanitarian law, which prohibits returning people to where their lives would be at risk.

“Several reliable actors … consistently reported about fundamental rights violations at the border in a number of Member States, but that Frontex generally disregarded these reports,” said the European Parliament’s report.

“The Agency also failed to adequately respond to internal observations about certain cases of probable fundamental rights violations in Member States which were raised.”

EU member states, as well as the Commission, sit on the Frontex management board. EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, has long pushed to strengthen rights oversight within Frontex.

EU countries have given Frontex additional money and powers since more than a million Syrian refugees reached Europe in 2015, overwhelming its reception and security capacity and fueling far-right sentiment across the bloc.

As EU countries fought bitterly over letting in the mostly-Muslim people coming from the Middle East and Africa, migration became a hot-button political issue in the 27-nation bloc.

The EU has since restricted asylum and migrants’ rights, fortified its borders and sealed deals – criticized by rights groups – with countries including Turkey to keep people on their soil.

EU countries are split between those advocating an ever-tougher stance on immigration and those accepting refugees and stressing the need to respect fundamental human rights, including in tense border situations. [Reuters]