Looking into the role of Frontex
Europe opens an investigation into the tragic drowning of migrants off the Greek coast

The European Union’s Rights Monitoring Authority opened an investigation into the sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Greece on June 14, with more than 500 asylum seekers on board, resulting in hundreds of victims.

The investigation deals with whether the European Border and Coast Guard Agency “Frontex” of the European Union carried out its duties to rescue the boat when it sank in the Mediterranean, off the island of “Peloponnese”.

Under the investigation, which began on Wednesday (July 26), the monitoring body will review Frontex’s internal rules, cooperation with the Greek authorities, reports prepared in the aftermath of the disaster, and an audit of deaths.

“My office will focus on Frontex’s role as we try to piece together the events that led to the capsizing and the deaths of at least 500 people,” said EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.

O’Reilly added: “Immigration to Europe will continue and it is up to the European Union to ensure that it acts in a way that preserves basic rights and does not lose sight of human suffering.”

The European official highlighted that she had asked for details about sharing information about search and rescue operations between Frontex and national authorities, and whether the European agency had a say in how these operations were designed or implemented.

The European investigation will also include whether there are specific rules for the use of cameras installed on boats during joint operations, and whether Frontex is reporting violations of fundamental rights in relation to the interaction of member state authorities with NGO vessels rescuing migrants at sea.

For its part, Frontex confirmed that it would cooperate with the investigation “with full transparency to explain the role it plays in search and rescue operations.”

“Although it does not coordinate rescue operations, it sees saving lives at sea as one of its primary roles, and provides all necessary support to national authorities when needed,” Frontex said in a statement.

It is noteworthy that the European border agency received more funds and powers, as the Union bloc pressed to curb the sudden increase in the number of migrants by sea from countries suffering from wars, poverty and climate change.

The Council of Europe, which monitors the human rights situation on the European continent, called on Greece to clarify the role played by its coast guard in the migrant shipwreck that killed hundreds in mid-June.

In a letter to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, published Friday (July 28, 2023), the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, expressed her concern that the coast guard’s role “in this tragedy” has been “underestimated”.

In response to Mijatović’s letter, Greek Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis said in a letter that an investigation had been opened into the role of the coast guard, stressing that they had rescued about 245,000 migrants since 2015. He rejected criticism, which he deemed as being “ulterior politically motivated” and emanating, according to him, from “defenders of an open borders policy”.

It is worth noting that testimonies given by survivors of the boat tragedy and press reports indicated that the Greek coast guard were involved in the capsizing of the boat.

Former member of the European Parliament, Kriton Arsenis, quoted survivors he met in the port of “Kalamata”, to which the survivors were transferred, that the Greek coast guard was towing the fishing boat crowded with asylum seekers through ropes before it capsized.

While the BBC published a report showing a “discrepancy” in the Greek Coast Guard’s account, as the data it published, based on an analysis of the movement of ships, indicated that the boat had been stationary for 7 hours before it capsized, contrary to what the Greek Coast Guard claimed, that during those hours the boat was on its way to Italy and was not in need of rescuing.

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