By Frank Jordan and Samuel Petrequin – The Associated Press
BRUSSELS ( Associated Press) — The head of the European Union’s border agency immediately resigned on Friday, the bloc’s executive said. The move comes after the media alleged that his agency was involved in illegal pushback of migrants who were trying to reach Europe.
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.
The European Union Commission said it “looks at the resignation” of Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri after a day of speculation about his fate. The announcement came after the board of the European Border and Coast Guard agency, known as Frontex, met on whether to accept his offer to resign.
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Legeri, who has been under mounting pressure to resign for months, offered to resign this week, a day after a media investigation suggested Frontex’s database had been used as “departure prevention” events in the Aegean Sea. Illegal pushback was registered in Legeri had previously denied wrongdoing.
Last year, the European Union’s anti-fraud watchdog, OLAF, launched an investigation into Frontex over allegations of harassment, misconduct and migrant pushback.
German Interior Ministry spokesman Maximilian Kaal said the replacement of Legerie gives the border agency an opportunity for a “fresh start”.
“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 fulfills an increasingly important function of supporting member states, managing the external borders of the common EU, and in doing so upholding fundamental rights,” the commission said.
Legeri had led Frontex since 2015, when more than 1 million people, many of whom were refugees fleeing the war in Syria, entered the bloc.
According to a joint investigation this week by Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, SRF Rundschau, Republique and Le Monde, Frontex has been involved in the pushback of at least 957 asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea between March 2020 and September 2021.
In contrast, 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 Sipple, home affairs spokesman for the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, called Legeri’s departure “after long-pending developments, pushbacks and persistent allegations of human rights violations”.
Pro Asile, a German non-governmental organisation, also welcomed Legeri’s offer to step down.
“It is reprehensible that the director of an EU agency has for years concealed human rights abuses, manipulated evidence and lied to Parliament,” said Pro Esmail’s Europe leader, Karl Kopp.
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 that its budget of about 750 million euros a year should be “massively cut”.
Jordan reported from Berlin. Contributed by Raf Kaisert from Brussels
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