Greek transparency agency removes migration report over data breach

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ATHENS — Greece’s National Transparency Authority (NTA) was forced on Friday to remove a report on migrant pushbacks in the Aegean Sea as it was improperly redacted, in an embarrassing data breach.

The authority removed the report, which it posted online on Tuesday, as it failed to properly hide the names and personal details of those who were interviewed during the investigation.

NGOs and media have long accused Greek authorities of illegally turning away asylum seekers who arrive at its borders, in a practice known as “pushbacks.” The European Commission has repeatedly urged the Greek authorities to create an independent monitoring authority to look into the numerous reports on pushbacks. Brussels has set that as a condition for further financing of coast guard operations in the Eastern Aegean.

On March 29, NTA issued a press release announcing the conclusion of its three-month investigation into Greece’s management of migration, launched at the request of the country’s migration ministry. The report followed up on the findings of an eight-month journalistic investigation by Lighthouse Reports and nine other European media platforms, which claimed a “system” of illegal forced returns operated in Greece and Croatia, and alleged special units of the countries’ security forces were involved.

The NTA made the full report public earlier this week, saying in its conclusion that it found no evidence of pushbacks and nothing to substantiate the Lighthouse allegations, “as no supporting evidence or relevant documentation has emerged.”

But because the names of the interviewees were improperly redacted, critics of the NTA’s report argued it was largely based on interviews with police and coast guard officers, who could potentially be involved in the alleged pushbacks. According to researcher Phevos Simeonidis, who first revealed the improper redaction and was able to obtain the full list of those NTA interviewed, some 45 percent of them were police or coast guard officials.

Authorities appear to have also spoken with church officials and Greek authorities working on migration. But out of 65 interviewees, only one was a representative of an NGO and only four were migrants. No officials from the U.N. refugee agency were interviewed.

Even before the unveiling of the redactions, the NTA report already revealed Lighthouse Reports Director Klaas van Dijken’s phone number, included at the bottom of supposedly confidential correspondence.

“We welcome the publication of the full report, as we welcomed the investigation,” van Dijken told POLITICO. “But the disclosure of personal data and failed effort at redaction has left us with concerns over the conduct of the investigation.”

The report approved Greek migration policy, from the operation of its asylum centers to how it manages illegal migration flows: “In every incident of detection of irregular immigrants, the legal provisions are respected throughout the entire operation, as provided by the national, international and European law.”

The report made scant mention of Frontex, the EU border management agency that works with the Greek coast guard and has been accused of pushbacks, including by the European Parliament.

Frontex’s former executive director, Fabrice Leggeri, recently resigned amid an investigation by OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud office. The Greek government presented Leggeri with an award earlier this year for his contribution to tackling the migration crisis.

Source: Politico

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