EU lawmakers reject border agency budget for misconduct

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BRUSSELS – EU lawmakers refused on Tuesday to approve how the EU Border and Coast Guard agency used its 2020 budget, due to concerns over serious staff misconduct and problems of human rights involving the work of Frontex.

Frontex controls the external borders of the EU of 27 nations. The agency is under pressure over allegations of being involved in the illegal push-backs of migrants, particularly in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. Its executive director resigned earlier this year after an investigation by the anti-fraud office.

During a plenary session in Strasbourg, France, lawmakers voted with 345 votes in favor, 284 against and 8 abstentions, not to sign the Frontex 2020 accounts.

“With a budget of 900 million euros (884 million dollars) in 2022, Frontex is the most funded European agency. We can no longer tolerate public money being used to violate European law and international law, ”said Dutch Green MP Bas Eickhout after the vote.

The move has no direct legal consequences, but it obliges EU institutions, especially the European Commission, to take steps to address parliamentary concerns. In similar circumstances in 1999, the entire commission resigned due to corruption allegations.

Several members of the EU parliament expressed concern over the suspected suicide of a Frontex staff member apparently linked to allegations of sexual harassment.

A report from the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, examined Frontex’s activities in Greece from spring to autumn 2020 and found that the agency was not properly investigating or handling evidence of refusal of migrants and, sometimes, he tried to cover them up or didn’t report them at all.

Push-backs – the forced return of people across an international border, by land or by sea, without an assessment of their rights to seek asylum or other forms of protection – violate both international and EU law.

Greek authorities have long been accused by human rights lawyers, non-governmental organizations, media investigations and other entities of conducting violent and deadly push-backs of migrants and refugees crossing its borders from Turkey.

Frontex tried to hide the allegations. “The Agency takes the results of investigations, audits and other forms of control seriously and uses them as an opportunity to make changes for the better,” Frontex said in a statement to the Associated Press on Friday.

While acknowledging the results of “serious misconduct” committed by three Frontex employees, the agency’s management said it had taken “corrective measures” to address the issues, mainly procedural changes within the agency.

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