A group of around 30 people stranded on an islet in the Evros region have finally been rescued after interim measures by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). A compliant over complicity in a pushback case by European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) has been lodged before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) amid new revelations of the investigation into the agency by the EU Anti-Fraud body OLAF. As the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announces new relocation scheme for 5,200 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers in Greece, authorities ramp up support to 13,000 newly arrived Ukrainians.
On 18 March the NGO HumanRights360 confirmed the rescue of approximately 30 people, including a pregnant woman bleeding, who had been stranded under extremely harsh conditions on an islet in the Evros region since 12 March following a pushback by Greek authorities. The rescue comes after a successful intervention by the organisation through the ECtHR granting interim measures on 16 March. The Strasbourg court demanded that Greek authorities provided the group with food, water, clothing and medical care and release information about their location. However, the incident reportedly cost the life of a 4-year old boy who drowned during the initial pushback.
On 10 March, a Syrian man represented by the legal organisation Front-LEX lodged a complaint before ECJ over alleged Frontex complicity in his pushback from Greece to Turkey. The man is claiming 550,000$ from the European agency over an incident in April 2020 when he was loaded onto a crowded inflatable dinghy and abandoned at sea for 17 hours by Greek authorities after arriving to Samos. Allegedly a Frontex plane surveyed the situation at the time. The case is announced at a time when Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri and his agency is already under increased scrutiny and severe pressure over a series of investigations including by the EU Anti-Fraud body OLAF – also looking into the case of the pushback of the Syrian man. According to Spiegel the OLAF investigation report – still not revealed to the public – found evidence suggesting that Leggeri “attempted to cover up illegal activities by Greek border officials – against the will of his own staff”. Further, the German outlet writes that OLAF “accuses three members of Frontex leadership of having violated EU regulations”. Reportedly, violations severe enough for OLAF to recommend disciplinary measures. On 24 March, Front-LEX sent a legal notice to EU home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson threatening legal action through ECJ on the basis of the commissioners “failure to act” under article 265 of the EU treaty by “blocking the process to fire Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri” following the OLAF investigation.
Greece had received some 13,000 Ukrainian refugees by 22 March. According to information from authorities: “almost double the total number of asylum seekers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa who reached the country in all of 2021”. Unlike its approach to other groups of asylum seekers and refugees Greece has ramped up support for Ukrainians including a dedicated jobsite and website with relevant information.
For further information:
- ECRE, Greece: Civil Society Organisations Demand EU Action on Third Country Concept, Pushbacks Continue with Frontex Involvement, Ukrainians Receive Access to Housing, Medical Care and Work While Regular Reception Remains Dire, March 2022
- ECRE, Greece: Pushbacks Face Renewed International, Legal, Political, and Public Scrutiny, Turkey Conducts Large-Scale Returns, Coast Guard Seeks to Purchase Surveillance Software, February 2022
This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.