By Frank Jordan and Samuel Petrequin – The Associated Press
BRUSSELS ( Associated Press) – The head of the European Union’s border agency has offered to resign after allegations that the agency was involved in illegal pushback of migrants, EU and German officials said on Friday.
A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry said the board of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, known as Frontex, is considering accepting the proposal from Frontex executive director Fabrice Legeri.
Pushback – forcing refugees away from the border before arriving in a country and claiming asylum – is considered a violation of international refugee protection agreements, which state that people should not be expelled or returned to that country. Where their life and safety may be at risk because of their race, religion, nationality or being a member of any social or political group.
Legeri has been under increasing pressure to resign for several months. Last year, the European Union’s anti-fraud watchdog, OLAF, launched an investigation into allegations of harassment, misconduct and migrant pushback in Frontex. The director submitted his motion to resign a day after a media investigation suggested Frontex’s database had recorded illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea as “departure prevention” events.
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Legeri has previously denied wrongdoing.
“I can confirm that he has offered his resignation to the board of Frontex,” ministry spokesman Maximilian Kall told reporters in Berlin. Call said replacing Legere would provide an opportunity for a “fresh start” at Frontex.
“This offers the possibility to fully resolve allegations, create complete transparency and ensure that all missions by Frontex are in full compliance with European law,” he said.
Frontex oversees the enforcement of the EU’s external borders and countries participating in Europe’s visa-free Schengen Area. A spokesman for the EU’s Executive Commission, Eric Mammer, said it was up to the agency’s board to “assess the situation”.
Legeri has led Frontex since January 2015, running the agency during the 2015 European migrant crisis, when more than 1 million people, many of whom were refugees fleeing the war in Syria, began entering the bloc.
The EU border agency has been involved in the pushback of at least 957 asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea between March 2020 and September 2021, according to a joint investigation this week by Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, SRF Rundschau, Republique and Le Monde .
The European Court of Human Rights has held that undocumented migrants should be provided with information, care, and that their asylum claims be processed.
European lawmakers have asked for part of Frontex’s budget to be frozen until reforms are made, including establishing a mechanism to report serious incidents at the EU’s external borders and establishing a system to monitor fundamental rights.
Birgit Sippel, home affairs spokesman for the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats grouping, said Legeri’s departure would follow “long-pending developments, pushback and persistent allegations of years of human rights violations.”
Pro Asile, a German non-governmental organisation, welcomed Legeri’s offer to step down. Pro Asyl helps migrants seeking protection from war and persecution in Germany.
“It is reprehensible that the director of an EU agency has for years concealed human rights abuses, tampered with evidence and lied to Parliament,” Karl Kopp, head of the group’s Europe department, said in a statement.
Kopp called for independent monitoring of Frontex to ensure that it operates in future in compliance with EU and international laws. His organization said Frontex’s areas of responsibility should be reduced and its budget of about 750 million euros “massively cut”.
Jordan reported from Berlin.
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