The head of the European Union’s border force has offered to quit after an investigation into the illegal pushback of migrant boats entering its waters.
Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri has been under pressure for months after several reports that the agency illegally turned back migrants trying to reach EU member Greece from Turkey.
“I can confirm that he has offered the board of Frontex his resignation," German interior ministry spokesman Maximilian Kall said in Berlin. He said replacing him would be a “fresh start” for Frontex.
The European anti-fraud office, Olaf, completed a report into Frontex earlier this year after an investigation linked to the pushback claims and other matters. The inquiry included a raid of Mr Leggeri’s office.
The report is yet to be made public but several links suggest that he is likely to be heavily criticised. A Green MEP said last month that the report reveals the management was “aware of human rights violations and deliberately avoided reporting them".
French magazine Le Point reported that Mr Leggeri, who has led Frontex since 2015, “did not follow procedures, was dishonest with the EU and managed staff badly”.
The resignation offer comes after a wave of reports accusing the border agency of involvement in illegal pushbacks or turning a blind eye to them. A report by French daily Le Monde on Wednesday accused Frontex of falsifying official documents to hide illegal pushbacks.
Frontex was accused in 2020 of being complicit in an illegal operation to stop asylum seekers crossing the Aegean Sea by boat from Turkey to Greece. A video obtained by a media consortium showed a Frontex vessel blocking a small refugee boat north-east of the Greek island of Lesbos before it returned to Turkish waters where 47 people were picked up.
The vessel also appeared to pass dangerously close to the dinghy, creating a wave, according to the investigation. Experts said the incident appeared to be illegal and breached a ban on the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to countries where they could face persecution. The tactic sometimes involves boats blocking dinghies until they run out of fuel and are pushed back into Turkish territorial waters.
German rescue organisation Sea-Watch also filed a legal claim in Luxembourg against Frontex this month after it refused to reveal documents linked to the return of migrants to Libya in July 2021.
The organisation claimed that a Libyan coastguard vessel dragged back a boat from Maltese waters with 20 people on board during an operation that may have involved a Frontex spotter drone, according to the humanitarian group.
The legal action was taken to try to force Frontex to hand over documents that detailed communications between Maltese, Libyan and Frontex officials, the group said.
“While Frontex preaches transparency, it operates like a secret service in reality,” said Marie Naass, the group’s head of advocacy.
Mr Leggeri's seven years as Frontex chief coincided with a major increase in resources for the agency during a period when EU fears rose over the effect that mass migrations could have on member states. Frontex is expected to expand to 10,000 staff by 2027.