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Emily O’Reilly to investigate EU border agency over Greek shipwreck

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has opened an inquiry into the response of European Union border agency Frontex to the deadly sinking of the Adriana off Greece last month.

Frontex and the Greek coastguard were aware of the struggling fishing boat, which was crowded with an estimated 750 people who were attempting to cross to Italy from Libya, long before the vessel foundered and sank on June 14th.

”A tragedy of this magnitude requires all those involved to reflect on their responsibilities and to be clear to the public who is accountable for these deaths,” Ms O’Reilly, an Irish former journalist who has been the watchdog of the EU institutions since 2013, said as she announced the inquiry.

“My office will focus on the role of Frontex as we try to piece together the events that led to the capsizing of the boat and the deaths of at least 500 people,” she said.

“Migration to Europe will continue and it is up to the EU to ensure that it acts in a way that maintains fundamental rights and does not lose sight of the human suffering.”

The EU has beefed up the role and size of the border agency as it hardens its policy on migration as tens of thousands of people seek to cross the Mediterranean in perilous boat crossings driven by conflict, poverty and climate change.

In a statement, Frontex said its role was not to “co-ordinate search-and rescue-operations” but that it provided assistance to national authorities in performing rescues when requested.

“Frontex sees the rescue of lives at sea as one of its essential roles and provides all the necessary support to national authorities when needed,” the agency said in a statement.

Frontex has said it spotted the vessel more than 12 hours before it sank, and that it alerted Greek and Italian coastguard authorities and offered assistance.

As part of the investigation Ms O’Reilly has requested a range of documents from Frontex including its formal report on how the disaster unfolded, and has said that the agency’s role in search-and-rescue “needs to be clarified”.

In a statement on Wednesday, her office said it planned to “further look into the role of EU institutions in upholding fundamental rights in border management activities”, and that it planned to ask for more information on a recent deal between the EU and Tunisia on boarder management, including its impact on human rights.


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