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EU court rules Frontex not liable in pushback damages case

September 6, 2023

A Syrian family deported from Greece to Turkey had accused the EU's border management agency of a breach of human rights. NGOs have repeatedly accused Frontex of violating international law when dealing with migrants.

Frontex official with arm band
Frontex has regularly been accused of carrying out illegal pushbacks of migrantsImage: Christian Charisius/dpa/picture alliance

A European Union court in Luxembourg on Wednesday dismissed a claim for damages filed against the bloc's border management agency Frontex by a Syrian family that said it was deported without regard to international law on people seeking protection.

Under international law, so-called pushbacks — sending people who have applied for protection at a national border back to another country without due consideration of their individual circumstances — is illegal.  

However, the court said in a press release that Frontex cannot be held liable for damages related to the family's deportation as the agency did not have the power to assess return decisions by member states or asylum applications.

Only EU member states "are competent to assess the merits of return decisions and to examine applications for international protection," the court said.

What did the family allege?

The Syrian family of six, which now lives in Iraq, said it was deported from EU member Greece to Turkey in 2016 on a flight operated by Frontex without any prior examination of its asylum application.

According to the family's lawyer, Lisa-Marie Komp, the family was told that the flight would take them to the Greek capital, Athens, rather than Turkey.

In addition, members of the family were kept apart during the flight and forbidden to ask questions, Komp said, adding that the children were also not treated in accordance with international law.

The family had claimed compensation for material and non-material damages resulting from the return operation.

Wednesday's ruling by the EU's second highest court can be appealed at the bloc's highest court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
Many Syrians have fled their home country amid a civil war that broke out in 2011, with their exodus a main trigger of what is often called the refugee crisis of 2015, during which many hundreds of thousands of people sought shelter in Europe.

Turkey and the EU struck a deal in 2016, renewed in 2019, under which Turkey agreed to take back people trying to enter Greece irregularly in return for €6 billion (around $7 billion) in humanitarian aid. The agreement, however, did not negate countries' obligations to first examine asylum applications. 

Controversial agency

Frontex has faced frequent accusations by nongovernmental organizations that it has violated migrants' rights in its efforts to protect the EU's external borders.

Last year, Fabrice Leggeri stepped down from his position as Frontex director in view of serious accusations of mistreatment of migrants trying to reach Europe made against him and his staff.

tj/sms (dpa, AFP)