Nearly 1,000 asylum seekers were abandoned at sea by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, between March 2020 and September 2021, according to a joint investigation by several European news agencies.
As a result of western-backed wars and economic sanctions, hundreds of thousands in West Asia have sought to escape to Europe through the Mediterranean.
However, they are often prevented from even leaving their own countries, as was the case on 24 April, when the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) caused the sinking of an overcrowded migrant boat to prevent it from reaching Cyprus.
According to the new report, even if asylum seekers manage to make it to EU waters, Frontex officials have been practicing a policy of so-called “prevention of departure,” effectively pushing back and stopping the asylum seekers from ever reaching shore.
Documents provided by Frontex include descriptions of 145 “prevention of departure” cases. In at least 22 of these incidents, asylum seekers were taken off dinghies, put into life rafts and left adrift at sea.
On May of last year, nearly 50 asylum seekers contacted the Norwegian NGO, Aegean Boat Report, after reaching the Greek island of Lesbos.
Mere hours later, some of the group were found by the Turkish coastguard adrift at sea in orange life rafts. The case was recorded in the Frontex database as a “prevention of departure.”
Two sources inside the EU border agency told reporters that pushbacks in the Aegean sea are usually archived as “prevention of departure.”
Human rights organizations have previously said that pushbacks in the Aegean sea are systematic, a practice that completely undermines the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, which guarantees that no one should be allowed to return to a country where they have been persecuted.
Frontex is the EU’s best funded agency, receiving a budget of 758 million euros in 2022.
But now these allegations have pushed legislators to investigate the actions of the agency, as well as those of Greek and Turkish authorities. The EU has also frozen part of the agency’s budget until the investigation is concluded.
From January to September 2021, it was estimated that 1,369 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.