The new head of the EU’s border agency vowed on Thursday to end the practice of illegal pushbacks and ensure respect of fundamental rights as Frontex is being called upon to boost the number of returns.
Hans Leijtens told reporters during a press conference in Brussels with EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, that he will adhere to three “guiding principles” during his tenure: accountability, respect for fundamental rights and transparency.
“Pushbacks, and of course I’m responsible for Frontex operations by Frontex officers, are not legal so they should be, well, they are forbidden. So I’m responsible for the fact that my people don’t participate in anything called a pushback. I think that is absolutely clear. That’s the legal framework I work in,” he said.
Leijtens will take the reins of the agency on 1 Match and replace Aija Klanaja, who has served as the interim director of Frontex since April 2022. Last month, the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog OLAF declared her a “person of concern” in an ongoing investigation into the organisation.
Klanaja’s predecessor, Fabrice Leggeri, resigned after initial findings of an OLAF investigation revealed that the EU agency’s guards covered up the illegal pushbacks of migrants at the border on a massive scale in a violation of human rights between 2020 and 2021.