Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:
Greece votes on stricter asylum law, aid organizations are worried
Today, a bill is being discussed in the Greek parliament with rigorous changes to the asylum law. That will be voted on tonight, because the centre-right government of Prime Minister Mitsotakis wants to introduce these new, harsher rules as quickly as possible.
The government hopes that this will make it easier to deport migrants … Athens is struggling with considerable backlogs in the asylum procedure and with the largest influx of refugees and migrants from Turkey since 2016. Nearly 44,000 people entered Greece via the sea this year.
More and more international organizations and many Greek aid organizations are now criticizing the government plans. Eg, the UN refugee organization UNHCR, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are concerned. “The proposed changes endanger people who need international protection,” said Philip Leclerc, UNHCR representative in Greece.
According to Human Rights Watch, numerous procedural changes are being implemented that impede access to a fair asylum process and affect the right to appeal. “It is a clear attempt to increase the number of deportations in the light of the recent increase in asylum seekers,” said Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Eva Cosse.
The organizations are calling on the bill not to be hurried through parliament and to adjust the law.
It seems that the government is not sensitive to that. …
The conservative government has already indicated that it wants to pursue a tougher policy when it took office in July. The long asylum procedure must be streamlined and asylum seekers who have exhausted all legal remedies must be returned to Turkey or to the country of origin.
Athens also constantly advocates a fair redistribution of refugees within the European Union. Prime Minister Mitsotakis said again at a conference yesterday that Greece cannot handle the problem alone.
Most refugees don’t really want to get asylum in Greece. They want to travel on to other countries where they can meet with relatives or friends; and where there is not as much economic ruin and unemployment as in Greece, hit by European Union austerity. However, razor wire and other European Union anti-refugee policies are stopping refugees’ intended travel to the north-west.
Crisis on islands
In the meantime, the situation on the Greek islands where there are refugee camps (Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos) is becoming increasingly acute. There are now more than 30,000 refugees on the islands and all camps are overcrowded. There are also major problems with housing, medical care, hygiene and safety.
The Greek asylum system is overloaded. Asylum seekers arriving on islands are told that their first appointment with the asylum service will be only in 2021 or 2022. According to the deal the EU concluded with Turkey in 2016, only vulnerable groups such as minors, the elderly and the sick are allowed to leave the islands.
“Strict deadlines, more rules and more requirements for the documents that refugees must submit in the procedures are no solution,” says lawyer Maria Papamina of the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR). The organization therefore fears that refugees, and certainly the most vulnerable groups, will have no chance of asylum or appeal with the new rules. The GCR argues for better access and more personnel in the asylum service and adequate legal assistance.
In an exposure of the nightmare confronting refugees seeking passage into Europe, footage published by the German newspaper Der Spiegel shows Greek authorities performing illegal “push-backs” at the Greek-Turkish border in northeastern Greece. The footage confirms what refugees and non-government groups have described as taking place for years: here.