The newsletter for the current period of October – December 2022 will focus on Legal Centre Lesvos’ ongoing dedication to challenge daily human rights violations at Europe’s borders. Violent, illegal pushbacks by Greek authorities occur unabated despite widespread condemnation. Vital to challenging pushbacks is the wider exposure of the EU pouring hundreds of millions of euros into the militarization of its borders whilst sidestepping accountability for its deadly consequences. EU funding used in connection to pushbacks transpires in multiple ways: a recent example is the EU funding of border authorities in Bulgaria, Hungary and Croatia who are responsible for manning secret detention facilities used to detain asylum seekers before illegally deporting them (Bulgaria receiving €320m, Croatia €163m, and Hungary €144m). More broadly, Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, who has proved complicit in pushbacks with the Hellenic Coast Guard, has had its budget skyrocket from €6 million in 2006 to over €750 million in 2022, making it the highest EU funded agency.
EU funding on the policing of its external borders has come under increasing scrutiny, with the European Parliament rejecting Frontex’s 2020 budget in October 2022. This coincided with the European Anti-Fraud Office’s (OLAF) investigative report on Frontex finally being leaked to the public (despite the report being finalised in February 2022). Within, it was confirmed that Frontex workers were actively encouraged to avoid monitoring pushbacks by the Greek Government and shared incorrect or biassed information on this with European Institutions. The investigation also details how Frontex used European taxpayer money to fund pushbacks in at least six instances, including through co-funding the Hellenic Coast Guard’s activities. Incredibly, EU Commissioner Margaritis Schinas and Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis both refused to acknowledge evidence of pusbacks in Greece, with Mitarakis additionally claiming zero infringements of fundamental rights, in front of the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee following the initial publishing of the report. This is what we are up against: leaders who are unafraid to deny hard facts when it inconveniences them, and at the cost of lives of the most politically disempowered: migrants and asylum seekers.
It is important to highlight here that the Greek Executive had no shame in jumping on a media opportunity to champion the heroism of its citizens who were involved in the rescue of migrants following two deadly shipwrecks in early October 2022. On the 6th of October, a vessel carrying 95 people from Afghanistan crashed off the coast of Kythira. Greek construction company owner, Michalis Protopsaltis, rescued 80 people by dispatching a crane and ropes to pull people fighting for their lives in the waters adjacent to a steep cliff drop. A few hours prior to this, a boat carrying 40 passengers capsized off the coast of Lesvos resulting in the drowning of 18 people: 16 young women, a man and a boy. In a farcical show of solidarity, the Greek Prime Minister called Protopsaltis to express his personal thanks and expressed his sadness of the tragic loss of human life in the two shipwrecks, “despite the heroic efforts of the Greek Coast Guard” – a state institution proven to engage in systematic pushbacks.
The Greek Coast Guard and Frontex are not the only ones using EU taxpayers’ money to violate fundamental rights at the borders. In a bid to distance itself from being accountable for pushbacks and human rights violations in migration policy, the EU is externalising its asylum policy to third countries with dismal reputations on upholding human rights. During the three month period covered by this Newsletter, there have been powerful movements towards countering this practice. NGO Egypt Refugees Platform has released a position paper criticising the EU granting €80 million to the Egyptian Coast Guard to buy “maritime border control equipment” without clear indicators as to how it will be used and how to ensure human rights protection. Additionally, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), a German NGO, submitted a complaint to the International Criminal Court, accusing EU politicians of conspiring with the Libyan Coast Guard to illegally pushback refugees. The accused include the EU’s former Foreign Policy High Representative Federica Mogherini, Italy’s current and former Interior Ministers and the current and former Prime Ministers of Malta.
Further information on updates from Lesvos and our work can be found in our latest Newsletter, available for download here, and below.