Today the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) sent a joint letter alongside colleagues from Statewatch to express concern over the involvement of Frontex in pushbacks from North Macedonia to Greeece. The correspondence urges investigation into five incidents recorded by BVMN where Frontex personel reportedly took part in the pushback of transit groups.
Addressing the head of Frontex’s Fundamental Rights Office Jonas Grimheden, Director of the Agency Fabrice Leggeri, and all Members of the Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights, the letter listed cases of pushbacks and fundamental rights violations documented over the past two years at the North Macedonian-Greek border. Oral testimonies given to BVMN by people who have directly experienced this border violence are included in the letter. They not only detail violent processes of cross-border removal, but also the overt presence of officers matching the visual description of Frontex. This evidence comes despite there being “no legal authority for officials deployed by Frontex to act on North Macedonian territory”.
frontex and legal mandates to delpoy
In 2020, Statewatch requested information on Serious Incident Reports from North Macedonia, to which the Agency replied there were no documented cases. Moreover, the Frontex Press Office also told Statewatch that the Agency had no activites at the land border from the North Macedonian side, and were only operating on the Greek side. Yet despite this, a stream of report gathered by BVMN and other monitoring organisations continue to locate officers matching the description of Frontex during pushbacks from North Macedonia. In line with their mandate under Article 6 on complaint mechanisms, the letter from BVMN and Statewatch urges for a timely and proper investigation into these incidents. The letter went on to say that:
“The absence of evidence should not be taken as evidence of absence — particularly given the Frontex Management Boards finding that serious incident reporting mechanism requires significant improvement. These allegations require a thorough investigation.”
Frontex aware and complicit in pushback violence
BVMN have recorded 41 cases of pushbacks from North Macedonia to Greece, many of which include high levels of physical violence, as well as verbal abuse, destruction of property, inhumane detention and other acts amounting to torture. These acts are often carried out by national authorities, who apprehend and remove groups via gates in the border fence near the Greek village of Idomeni. However, this pushback regime also hinges on the involvement of multiple other national border agencies, including officers from the Czech Republic and Hungary delpoyed under bilateral agreements.
Within this interlocking border patrol system, cases from the last two years have been puncutated with reports of Frontex’s direct and tacit involvement in pushbacks. Respondents report spotting national flags worn by the member states involved in Frontex, the distinctive blue armband, and langauges such as German being spoken. As Statewatch describe in an accompanying article, the testimonies presented in the letter to the Agency, report that Frontex “engaged in or condoned brutal violence – including the use of tasers and electroshock batons, throwing people into rivers, and tying people up and beating them”.
Testimonies referred to in the letter of concern
August 20, 2020 10:00 – 15 minutes north of the North Macedonian border near Gevgelija
August 14, 2020 02:00 – Gevgelija area near the border, North Macedonia
September 8, 2019 00:00 – 10km into North Macedonian interior (north of Gevgelija)
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