A Danish boat that monitored the Aegean Sea as part of Operation Poseidon, a border control mission to support Greece, coordinated by Frontex, refused to send back migrants they picked up from the sea, Danish officials told Danish Radio.
Operation leader Jens Møller of the Danish Police told Danish Radio that they had picked up 33 migrants who went to Greece in a rubber boat when they received orders from Poseidon headquarters to send them back outside Greece's waters.
The Danes refused to obey the order, which they called “controversial” and “life-threatening”. The inflatable boat, according to a crew member, was not in “seaworthy condition”.
“The captain thought it was not justifiable”, Møller told Danish Radio.
The migrants were taken to the Greek island of Kos. Several of the crew members said that the rules of good seamanship dictate the obligation to help people at sea.
According to Navy Captain Jan Niegsch, it is risky to stop a rubber boat by force. By his own admission, such a situation can end up as a sea rescue.
The Danish sailors said that they had seen episodes when Greek patrol boats sail close to the overcrowded inflatable boats to turn them around in so-called “pushbacks” or “turnbacks”, which they see as risky behaviour. The Danish crews have admittedly begun to document the “wrongdoings” of the Hellenic Coast Guard.
“If we witness something that we believe is contrary to the rules, then we document it and report it back to our system. Initially back to Frontex,” Jens Møller said.
Despite the increased pressure on the Frontex countries, Danish Defence Minister Trine Bramsen said she was satisfied that the crew did not obey the order.
“They solved the task based on the mandate they were given,” Bramsen noted.
Denmark's Frontex contribution currently consists of two coastal patrol boats operating from the Greek island of Kos. The boats are manned by 17 people the National Police and the Armed Forces. Additionally, the National Police and the Ministry of Defence have seven men stationed on the islands of Lesbos and Samos.
Since June 2019, Denmark's two patrol boats have participated in 86 incidents and “handled” 1,817 refugees and migrants in primitive dinghies and inflatable boats, Danish Radio reported.
Following Turkey's decision to open its borders to the European Union, border nations Greece and Bulgaria have been struggling to keep up with the migrant influx. Ankara has since accused Greece of “hitting” and “bullying” refugees during attempted sea crossing. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said called on Greece to “open the gates” because the refugees would just pass through before moving on.
While the practice of pushbacks is considered illegal in the EU and has repeatedly drawn criticism from human rights bodies such as Amnesty International and Oxfam, they have been an off-and-on policy of the Australian government since the early 2000s, which claimed them to have reduced the number of IMAs, or irregular maritime arrivals, by 80 percent.