BY DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL JAN 19, 2023 –
European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson (R) and new Executive Director of the European Border and Coast Guard (FRONTEX) Hans Leijtens give a news conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 19, 2023. (AFP Photo)
Hans Leijtens, a Dutch general appointed as the new executive director of Frontex, the European Union’s border and coast guard agency, pledged that illegal pushbacks of migrants in the Aegean Sea will be prevented.
Speaking at a news conference in Brussels, Belgium with Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, Leijtens said he would be “responsible for the fact that (Frontex) does not take part in anything called a ‘pushback.'”
“If it is illegal, it should be banned. This is a clear fact,” he said.
Leijtens, who will formally take office on March 1, said the Warsaw-based agency faced many challenges, but he felt at ease because he would “work with people who will support the border protection of member states.”
“Frontex works and achieves concrete results. We should act fast for more improvement,” he said.
Leijtens noted there was still room to improve the work of the agency. “We have to increase efficiency and ensure legitimacy. Accountability, basic rights and border management are important topics for me and they serve as the basis of transparency,” he said.
“We have to convey what we did and why we did it because Frontex, at its core, is a European agency and should reflect European values,” he said. He added they would work for the modernization of border crossings.
For her part, Johansson said they had high expectations from Frontex and that the agency had many fields that need work. Johansson pointed out a rise in irregular migration and maintained that they were “in talks” for the deployment of Frontex to prevent migration into European Union states through the inner borders of the Western Balkans. Johansson also said she would announce their operational strategy for the return of people whose asylum applications are rejected.
On pushbacks, Johansson said 30 people had died since the beginning of 2023 in the Mediterranean Sea and their priority should always be saving lives. “This is the role of Frontex. If Frontex spots a boat under the risk of sinking or missing, it should warn the coast guard to intervene,” she explained.
Leijtens’s predecessor Fabrice Leggeri resigned last year over allegations of a cover-up of human rights violations by Frontex officials. Frontex has long been accused of turning a blind eye to the Greek coast guard’s pushback practice and reports of the sinking of migrant boats traveling from Türkiye to Greece by the same coast guard.