Lighthouse Investigators Testify at European Parliament

Frontex Scrutiny Group Hears Evidence from Journalists

Lighthouse Reports gave evidence to European Parliament hearings on May 10 scrutinising the role of the European border agency Frontex in illegal pushbacks in the Aegean. Lighthouse director Klaas van Dijken described a system designed to “prevent asylum seekers reaching Europe” and documented the complicity of Frontex in these operations.

A months-long investigation with Der Spiegel, Bellingcat and ARD established that pushbacks of asylum seekers in the Aegean were not rogue actions of the Greek coast guard but operations undertaken with the support or connivance of Frontex.

These findings were instrumental in the creation of the Frontex Scrutiny Working Group set up by the European Parliament to investigate alleged violations by the agency.

Despite its frequent denials there is clear evidence that Frontex knew about illegal interception and returns. In multiple instances, our research shows a pattern of Frontex proximity to and participation in operations that violate fundamental rights. The evidence is based on open-source information, leaked documents as well as interviews with migrants and Frontex staff.

“Europe is creating systems not to rescue people but to ensure that people cannot claim asylum in Europe,” Van Dijken told the scrutiny group (18:48 onwards).

Greece has been shown to be undertaking a concerted operation to reduce the number of land and sea arrivals of asylum seekers, as well as to remove some of those who have arrived and sought international protection. Frontex continues to deny involvement.

Steffen Ludke from Der Spiegel, one of the partners in the investigation, told the hearing that it was clear from Frontex’s own internal documents that the agency had witnessed pushback operations. Ludke cited an example from April 18 2020 where a Frontex aircraft provided a blow by blow report of one such operation to the agency headquarters in Warsaw.

Lighthouse has recently released its findings from a second investigation, this time in the Central Mediterranean, where Frontex’s role in interceptions of asylum seekers fleeing Libya was examined. The reports, published jointly with Liberation in France, Trouw in The Netherlands and ARD and Der Spiegel in Germany, found that Frontex plays a direct role in the Libyan coast guard’s interception operations contrary to previous denials.

The scrutiny group was given a four-month mandate to investigate Frontex and will deliver a cross-party report on its findings.