Six people are missing and one child drowned after a shipwreck off Samos, the father of the child has been arrested on suspicion of endangering a life. Mare Liberum has collected information on hundreds of pushback operations in the Aegean Sea involving more than 8,500 people since March 2020. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) has come under scrutiny from the European Commission as well as the European Ombudsman following reported involvement in pushbacks from Greece.

Allegedly Port Police were delayed in their response, when alerted to a dinghy in distress off the coast of Samos on 8 November. 17 of the 24 people onboard were rescued, six people are missing and a young boy drowned during the incident. In response authorities have arrested a young survivor on human smuggling charges, as well as the 25-year-old father of the dead child on charges of the endangerment of a person which leads to death which could result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Aegean Boat Report states: “It’s outrageous that a grieving father is being punished for trying to seek safety for himself and his child”.

Mare Liberum, an organisation monitoring human rights in the Aegean Sea, has uncovered 266 pushback operations from Greece to Turkey affecting 8,521 people since March 2020. According to the organisation the real number could be much higher: “because gathering information is difficult in a highly militarized borderzone where no civilian witness is present and facts are politically instrumentalized”. According to MEP and member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Tineke Strik, the long awaited response from the Greek government of a deadly shooting by Greek border guards at the border with Turkey in March provides: “blunt denials without offering any counter evidence”.

At an extraordinary Frontex board meeting on 10 November requested by the European Commission following reports of the agency’s involvement in pushbacks from Greece, the Management Board stressed: “that all operations of Frontex have to be carried out in full compliance with the applicable legal requirements, and in particular with fundamental rights, notably the principle of non-refoulement”, and demanded a solid and effective internal reporting system to be put in place. Executive Director of Frontex Fabrice Leggeri has been asked to respond to questions from the board in writing by 13 November, and confirmed in a press release after the meeting that: “Any allegation of misconduct or infringement of international treaties or fundamental rights in the framework of joint operations coordinated by Frontex is treated with grave concern and carefully investigated”. Amnesty International states that the meeting should be the starting point of reform of the way Frontex deals with evidence of violations, of the European Commission to fully investigate all allegations and for the European Council to step up work on the proposed border monitoring mechanism. On 12 November European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly opened an inquiry into how the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) deals with alleged breaches of fundamental rights: “In particular, the investigation will assess the effectiveness and transparency of Frontex’s Complaints Mechanism for those who believe their rights have been violated in the context of Frontex border operations, as well as the role and independence of Frontex’s ‘Fundamental Rights Officer’ “. Greece reportedly blocked a joint declaration by member states to be issued after the board meeting on the grounds that is adopted complaints over Greek conduct, and Greek officials found themselves surprised by what was referred to as “hostile” attitudes with only Hungary supporting their positions.

Severe cuts of ESTIA II funding for reception leaves organisations supporting refugees to run 76% more housing places, with 60% less funding and downsize activities by 45%, on 87% less funding.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there were 121,100 asylum-seekers and migrants including 4,200 unaccompanied children in Greece at the end of September and camps on the islands remained overcrowded with 21,400 residing in spaces with a total capacity of 6,200. Greek authorities stated on 11 November that 750 migrants and asylum seekers have tested positive to COVID-19 and one has died.

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Photo: ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.