New Frontex chief vows to ‘restore trust’ amid pushback controversy

New Executive Director of the European Border and Coast Guard (FRONTEX) Hans Leijtens attends a press conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels on January 19, 2023. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

The new chief of EU border agency Frontex on Thursday vowed to “restore trust” in an organization shaken by claims it turned a blind eye to border guards illegally pushing back migrants, Agence France-Presse reported.

Dutch general Hans Leijtens last month replaced Frontex’s interim director Aija Kalnaja, who took over the role in July after the resignation of Fabrice Leggeri.

The EU’s anti-fraud office OLAF in July said Frontex under Leggeri had been complicit in Greek efforts to force migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Aegean Sea back to Turkey.

Leijtens said his priorities were to “restore trust, revamp the way Frontex operates, and really deliver tangible results” at a Brussels news conference with EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson.

He officially starts work on March 1.

“Border management and fundamental rights, they go hand in hand,” he said, vowing that Frontex would work “within the boundaries of the legal framework.”

“I’m responsible for the fact that my people don’t participate in anything called a pushback,” he said.

Asked about accusations by rights groups including Human Rights Watch that Frontex had been complicit in abuses of migrants in Libya by collaborating with the Libyan coast guard to intercept boats, he promised “transparency.”

“I’m not the type of director who will build a fence around Frontex,” he said. “I want to open the doors.”

NGOs, he said, were “more than welcome than to give their information to us.”

Johansson stressed that Frontex’s role was to save lives and to alert coast guards when a migrant boat was at risk of sinking.

She said 30 migrants had already died since the start of the year in the Mediterranean Sea according to the International Organization for Migration.

The European Union was working with the United Nations and the African Union to organize voluntary returns to countries of origin, said Johansson, and to take refugees to “better camps” — in Niger, for example — before being resettled in the EU or elsewhere.

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