Sea rescue group claims that Frontex is complicit in human rights violations in the operation of the search and rescue area in Malta
Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, is being sought for refusing to provide documents relating to its working relationship with the Libyan coastguard in Malta’s search and rescue area in connection with with a specific incident in July.
The lawsuit, filed by the German sea rescue organization Sea-Watch in cooperation with the transparency group FragDenStaat at the EU General Court in Luxembourg, was launched “to obtain the release of information held to prove that Frontex is an accomplice of the Human. Violation of rights in the Central Mediterranean, “said the sea rescue organization.
Into press release published on Thursday, Sea-Watch said that the July incident “in violation of international law” took place in the Maltese search and rescue area and involved a boat in distress with about 20 people on board. intercepted by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard. and dragged back to Libya. “
The lifeboat Sea-Watch 3 was the nearest lifeboat but was not informed by any authority, they said.
“Maltese officials have refused to perform their duties of coordinating rescue efforts and ensuring that persons in distress at sea are taken to a safe place, as required by international maritime law and human rights law. man. Prior to the interception of the boat, a Frontex drone was repeatedly on site and in the vicinity of the danger case. Frontex must therefore be presumed to have been involved in the withdrawal in violation of international law. “
Following the incident, FragDenStaat and Sea Watch had submitted requests to access Frontex documents, under the Freedom of Information Regulation, in order to learn more about Frontex’s involvement in that incident, however The border agency “repeatedly refused to release the requested information,” they said.
“What Frontex has revealed is the amount of data available, but not its content: 73 documents, one video and one video have been identified relating to the date of the Sea-Watch request. Among them were 36 documents on the exchange of communications between Frontex and the Libyan, Italian, and Maltese authorities on that specific day alone. “
We are joining @seawatchcrew to bring Frontex to court.
We will fight for information showing how, in the Central Mediterranean, the EU border police #Frontex it is instrumental in human rights abuses. https://t.co/B8M5ZlFUoV
– FragDenStaat.de (@fragdenstaat) April 28, 2022
“Frontex has a legal obligation to be transparent about its operations – and yet the border agency systematically denies access to information on its actions, in the Central Mediterranean and elsewhere. This is a dangerous model. Without transparency we cannot hold Frontex accountable, and create fertile ground for impunity and further abuse, ‘said Luisa Izuzquiza of FragDenStaat.
The investigation reveals that Frontex is responsible for pushing 957 asylum seekers
In a separate investigative report published on Thursday, the same agency revealed that it was involved in the push back of at least 957 asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea between March 2020 and September 2021.
Fil the report, It was revealed that Frontex, the “best-funded EU agency with a budget of € 758m” was involved in “what appear to be pushbacks, according to its own database”.
The joint investigation was carried out by The Guardian, Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, SRF Rundschau, Republik and Le Monde.
A request for freedom of information (FOI) submitted in the investigation found that the database of the agency’s internal incident report, ‘Jora’, recorded an appearance of asylum seekers push backs in the Aegean which have been labeled by officials as “prevention of departure,” a report by The Guardian explains.
Frontex guidelines define this as an incident when migrants are stopped at sea by authorities of non-European countries in their territorial waters and returned to their point of departure, she says.
In response to the FOI’s request, the agency provided a redacted version of the database but included descriptions of 145 cases labeled “departure prevention,” which differed from reports of the same incidents by the Turkish coastguard, witnesses, leaked documents and other confidential sources. , when cross-referenced, according to the report.
Through their research, investigators concluded that “in at least 22 accidents, asylum seekers were removed from dinghies, put in Greek life rafts and left at sea”.
Giving one example of such a refund, the report highlights one incident in May 2021, in which a group of about 50 asylum seekers, who were already on the ground in Lesbos (Greece) , had contacted a Norwegian NGO, Aegean Boat Report, and sent them photos and a WhatsApp message showing their location near Mytilene (the capital of Lesbos).
However, hours later, some of the group “were found by Turkish coastguards at sea in orange life rafts”. “This case was later recorded in the Frontex database as ‘departure prevention’,” the report reveals.
Greece and Frontex deny allegations of pushbacks and say their officials comply with human rights law.
Pushbacks, illegal under EU law, are not new to Malta. In 2020, the Maltese authorities allegedly carried out pushback practices, such as an incident that led to the collective deportation of 51 migrants at sea by private vessels, and to the death of 12 migrants, allegedly due to the duration of search and rescue operations.