According to Der Spiegel, Director of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), Fabrice Leggeri, denied involvement of the agency in pushback operations from Greece during an extraordinary board meeting called by the European Commission. In an addendum released on 23 November the Expert Council on NGO Law under Council of Europe follows up on earlier critique of Greek legislation on NGO registration.

Following the documentation of Frontex direct or indirect involvement in six pushback operations from Greece to Turkey, the European Commission called for an urgent extraordinary Management Board meeting on 10 November. Der Spiegel, one of the media partners behind the documentation, reports that Fabrice Leggeri released an internal report to the participants of the meeting confirming that Frontex units were close to pushback incidents but concluding that their awareness of such incidents could not be assessed. In a letter to President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli from 11 November, Leggeri states: ”As I informed the participants of the MB meeting, the preliminary findings of the inquiry conclude that there is no evidence of a direct or indirect participation of Frontex staff or officers deployed by Member States under Frontex operations in alleged “pushbacks” in the Aegean Sea”. Further, Leggeri during the meeting deducted from the fact that no serious incident reports have been filed by Frontex officials that no such incidents have occurred. Reportedly, many participants and observers of the meeting considered this explanation insufficient pointing instead to the lack of functioning internal report mechanisms. An explanation reportedly supported by the example of a Swedish Frontex crew being advised by a Frontex official not to file a serious incident report in October. A recent freedom of information request by the EUobserver also cast doubt on Leggeri’s explanations on an incident in March involving the refusal by a Danish crew operating under Frontex of carrying out pushbacks. MEP and member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Tineke Strik stated: “The evidence against Frontex and the Greek government is piling up. These practices are not just incidents, they are politics”. The LIBE Committee will meet Leggeri on 1 December to discuss pushbacks from Greece to Turkey. One person drowned and 13 survived when a speed boat departing from Turkey partially sank off Rhodos on 23 November.

The Expert Council on NGO Law under the Council of Europe issued an Opinion on the Compatibility with European Standards of Recent and Planned Amendments to the Greek Legislation on NGO Registration in July, concluding that they were incompatible with rights and freedoms, among them the freedom of association, and that: “The Ministerial Decision and related legislative provisions should be substantially revised so that they are brought into line with European standards. Furthermore, in revising the amended provisions, it would be appropriate to consult NGOs prior to adopting any further measures”.  In its recent addendum the expert council focuses on the Ministerial Decision 10616/2020 of 9 September 2020 entitled: Specification of operations concerning the “Register of Greek and Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)” and the “Register of Members of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)” finding serious discrepancy between stated objectives and consequences of the legislation. According to the council: “instead of optimising their services, Ministerial Decision 10616/2020 makes it virtually impossible for NGOs working in the domains of asylum, migration and social inclusion to provide any services at all, and impedes their access to government and EU funding”. Further, it concludes that by ignoring the “crucial role played by NGOs” the Greek government undermines key-rights of refugees and migrants including the right to claim asylum and the rights to health, shelter and food, as well as dignity and humanity. It also finds: “lack of transparency and significant potential for arbitrary decision-making coupled with an absence of effective recourse to review procedures associated with decisions to deny registration or certification” and concludes that the Ministerial Decision 10616/2020 should be revoked as soon as possible.

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