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EU border agency chief Leggeri resigns after refugee pushback claims

Frontex has repeatedly been accused of practising illegal pushbacks of refugees after they make it across EU borders
Olaf's report into Fabrice Leggeri found he "did not follow procedures, was dishonest with the EU and managed staff badly," French magazine Le Point reported (AFP)

Fabrice Leggeri, head of the European Union's Frontex border agency, has offered his resignation, with the body's board set to "examine" the move on Friday.

French official Leggeri resigned "following an investigation into his management of the agency by Olaf," the European Anti-Fraud Office, a French source told AFP.

Frontex has repeatedly been accused by aid groups of practising illegal pushbacks of refugees after they make it into EU waters, or of turning a blind eye when national authorities have done the same.

Greece's land and sea borders with Turkey have been a major focus of such allegations.

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Pushing back people who enter EU territorial waters is illegal under the bloc's regulations and member state and international laws.

In 2021, the European Parliament published its own report into allegations that Frontex was involved in pushbacks.

"Several reliable actors... consistently reported about fundamental rights violations at the border in a number of Member States, but that Frontex generally disregarded these reports," said the parliament's report.

"The Agency also failed to adequately respond to internal observations about certain cases of probable fundamental rights violations in Member States which were raised."

In January, Middle East Eye reported that Frontex often left refugees crossing from Africa to drown, despite knowing their location.

"I can confirm that he [Leggeri] has offered his resignation," which "opens the possibility of a new start" for Frontex, a German government spokesman said of Leggeri at a news conference on Thursday.

Olaf's report into Leggeri, who has led Frontex since 2015, found he "did not follow procedures, was dishonest with the EU and managed staff badly," French magazine Le Point reported.

In his resignation letter, Leggeri wrote: "I give back my mandate to the [Frontex] Management Board as it seems that Frontex mandate on which I have been elected and renewed in June 2019 has silently but effectively been changed."

'Preventions of departure'

On Wednesday, a joint investigation involving Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, SRF, Republik and Le Monde revealed 22 incidents involving hundreds of migrants Frontex formally registered as "preventions of departure".

The investigation found Frontex had been involved in forcing back at least 957 asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea between March 2020 and September 2021.

Lighthouse Reports journalist Tomas Statius told Euronews the pushbacks follow a common scenario where the Greek border patrol returns the migrants to the open sea, even when they are found after landing on Greek territory.

"A migrant we interviewed actually claimed that the Greeks intercepted them on Greek soil, and then put them on a Greek boat and then left them in the Aegean in a small life raft," Statius said.

On Friday, the United Nations said more than 3,000 people had died or gone missing in the Mediterranean and Atlantic while trying to reach Europe last year, double the toll from 2020.

Frontex is set to be reinforced to 10,000 staff watching the EU's external borders by 2027, AFP reported.