BRUSSELS – The head of the European borders agency left the door open on the end of its operations in Greece during a parliamentary hearing on Thursday on a shipwreck of migrants off the coast of Greece in June that left more than 500 dead .
The incident has raised questions about Greece’s human rights record, with criticism that the local coastguard did not do enough to save those on board the ship.
“We are about to request more information on a total of three incidents – two earlier and now this one – and to determine whether they have consequences for cooperation with Greece,” the executive director said. from Frontex, Hans Leijtens, during a busy session. EU lawmakers in Brussels.
Tensions in the room erupted when two right-wing MEPs suggested immigration was responsible for violent protests that erupted in France last week.
“This is one of the results of uncontrolled migration, and let’s be honest, migrants in France have a much better life than in Africa,” said non-aligned Slovak MEP Milan Uhrík, prompting mockery and criticism. angry reactions from other colleagues in the room.
Leijtens is facing growing pressure to suspend Frontex’s activities in Greece following a recommendation from the agency’s human rights officer, Jonas Grimheden. In January 2022, Frontex set up a working group to assess fundamental rights in Greece and advise on whether to end operations in the country.
Greek authorities have come under the spotlight after survivors of the tragedy claimed local coastguards staged a dangerous maneuver to steer the overcrowded fishing boat towards Italy, eventually capsizing it.
The head of Frontex indicated on Thursday that his decision will ultimately depend on how the Greek government responds to his questions about the incident.
“What we need to know is what really happened,” Leijtens stressed during his session in the European Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee, where he dismissed accusations that the EU agency would not have helped the migrant ship.
The head of Frontex instead pointed the finger at the Greek authorities, saying they had twice ignored a request to deploy drones.
“We offered help but there was no response from the Greek authorities,” Leijtens said, adding that a Frontex drone that had been sent earlier to monitor another migrant ship in southern Greece had finally arrived at the scene of the tragedy, when it was too late.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson has fended off pressure from MEPs to launch an independent EU inquiry into the sinking.
“We don’t have the competence to do that, member states can do that,” Johansson stressed, adding that she urged the Greek government to carry out a “thorough, effective and transparent” investigation.