Head of Frontex Resigns After Migrant-Pushback Allegations

File image courtesy Frontex

Published May 1, 2022 9:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

After multiple reports of migrant pushback activity by EU counter-migration agency Frontex, the agency's top official has stepped down. 

Fabrice Leggeri, the head of Frontex, resigned after an investigation by the EU anticorruption agency OLAF. The details of the investigative findings have not been released publicly, but Frontex was said to be considering disciplinary action for Leggeri.

Under Leggeri, Frontex has been repeatedly accused of pushing back migrants from EU borders using extralegal means, like facilitating their capture by the authorities they were attempting to escape (for example, the Libyan Coast Guard) or allowing them to be pushed back over a maritime line of demarcation (for example, back to Turkish waters) without due process. 

Though migrant pushback is consistent with the overarching EU policy objective of reducing maritime migration, some of the methods Frontex has used or condoned may not be lawful in the EU. A summary of the OLAF investigative report was released to the European Parliament in February, and it indicated that "Frontex's management was aware of human rights violations and deliberately avoided reporting them," according to MEP Erik Marquardt.

A new, separate investigation carried out by five leading European news outlets identified 22 different incidents in which maritime migrants were informally pushed back on the water or deported from land after reaching Europe. In each case, Frontex misreported the action as "prevention of departure," according to the report by Der Spiegel, Le Monde and partners.

In a resignation letter obtained by The Guardian, Leggeri said that he had been carrying out the mission he had originally been assigned.

“I give my mandate back to the management board as it seems that the Frontex mandate on which I have been elected and renewed in June 2019 has silently but effectively been changed,” he wrote.

For now, Frontex will be led by Aija Kalnaja, the agency's deputy executive director.