On February 14, 2023, the New York Times published a report claiming that in 2022, Jonas Grimheden, head of Human Rights at the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), had recommended in a confidential report that the agency should cease operating in Greece due to the systematic violation of international and EU refugee law by Greek authorities, including the forcible return of asylum seekers to Turkey.
The report explains that, “the role of Frontex is to help countries like Greece guard the borders but also to create a European standard for how to do so humanely and in accordance with E.U. law. But the agency, which has grown over the past decade to become the E.U.’s best-funded, has been accused of overlooking, covering up and even carrying out human rights violations.”
The Frontex official said that he had gathered “credible reports” about Greek authorities systematically turning back refugees at both sea and land borders. Furthermore, Greek authorities were reportedly denying refugees access to international protection status, separating children from their parents and treating migrants in a “humiliating” manner. The seriousness of the evidence gathered prompted Frontex’s human rights chief to call for the agency’s shutdown in Greece.
Frontex responded that recommendations by the Human Rights chief are not binding, adding that it was addressing the concerns jointly with the Greek authorities and that the human rights chief himself had reported “progress” on the issue in late January. “As a conclusion, currently, we don’t see a reason to pull out from one of the most challenging border areas of the whole E.U.,” Frontex said in a statement.
The European Commission told the newspaper that it reserves its right to launch an infringement procedure, which could lead to the Commission taking Greece to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) for violation of EU law. For its part, the Greek government said that it respects European and international law and that the claims of refoulement are being investigated.
In a state governed by the rule of law, the authorities must ensure effective international protection procedures that protect applicants from war, illiberal and undemocratic regimes and other risks in their countries of origin.
European law requires that border surveillance measures must be implemented in full compliance with human rights and refugee law, including the 1951 Convention, while states must honour their commitments and respect fundamental human rights, such as the right to life and the right to asylum.
These revelations, however, raise serious questions about the systematic violation of international and EU refugee law by the Greek authorities.
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