Council of Europe urges the Greek parliament to reconsider legislative proposals that hinder “life-saving” work and human rights monitoring by NGOs. According to European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, the monitoring of human rights is a precondition for additional funding for border management in Greece. New reports of pushback attempts by Greek authorities in the Evros region on the border with Turkey. Afghan asylum seekers face extensive waiting and potential rejections in Greece.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović has expressed concern over a bill tabled by the Greek government to amend deportation and return procedures, residence permits, and asylum procedures. Article 40 of the Deportations and Return Bill introduces restrictions and conditions on NGOs active in areas of competence of the Greek Coast Guard, at the threat of heavy sanctions and fines. According to the Commissioner these changes: “would seriously hinder the life-saving work carried out at sea by NGOs, and their human rights monitoring capacities in the Aegean”.

Since 2015, the EU has provided Greece with more than 643 million euro of funding for migration management. When meeting with Commissioner Johansson in March 2021 the Greek Minister of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy Ioannis Plakiotakis asked for 15.8 million euro in urgent additional funding for the Hellenic Coast Guard. However, on 30 August Commissioner Johansson stated that any additional EU border management funding to Greece: “should be linked to the establishment of a mechanism to monitor fundamental rights”, noting that she expected progress on this issue. The statements were welcomed by Tineke Strik, MEP for the Greens/European Free Alliance and member of the European Parliament’s Frontex Scrutiny Working Group (FSWG), who called it “a first step in the right direction” and said that EU financial support needed to be made dependent on border guards’ respect for the rule of law.  The Commissioner’s statement comes amidst ongoing evidence of both systematic pushbacks by the Hellenic Coast Guard and the negligence of Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency) in reacting to incidents.

During the last days of August, the NGO hotline Alarm Phone reported multiple incidents of people being robbed and beaten by Greek authorities before being left stranded on an islet in the Evros river close to the Turkish border. Reportedly, Turkish authorities are denying them access back into Turkey. According to Josoor International Solidarity, around 50 people are stranded without shelter, food or drinking water with footage revealing: “all group members without shoes, most without proper clothing and many of the group members severely injured with bruises and wounds”. On 30 August Alarm Phone reported that 100 people including three small children and a pregnant woman arrived to the island of Milos. The group had been travelling for days from Egypt to Turkey and got off course whilst trying to reach Italy. They were taken to Adamantas port on Milos by Greek police where they were tested for COVID and told they must stayfor 3 days. It is unclear where they will go from there and whether they will be allowed to seek asylum. Also on 30 August Aegean Boat Report and Alarm Phone reported 105 people in distress in a boat taking in water and engine problems south-west of Adamantas in the Aegean. The Hellenic Coast Guard declined requests for information and no rescue operation was confirmed. The Coast Guard announced Tuesday that it intercepted more than 150 people in two separate incidents off the islands of Milos and Kythira on the 29 and 31 August.

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) has analysed asylum statistics from the Ministry of Migration and Asylum revealing that 46,247 first instance applications were pending at the end of June 2021. 71% have been pending for more than a year from the date of full registration. 13,864  pending applications represent Afghan nationals many of whom will face admissibility procedures based on the controversial Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) issued on 7 June designating Turkey as a ‘Safe Third Country’. “I don’t think the recent events in Afghanistan have affected asylum application rejections. What has been happening since June, is that if an Afghan refugee cannot prove why Turkey is unsafe for them, their request for asylum in Greece is rejected. They have the option to appeal but the process is long and laborious,” said director of NGO Mobile Info Team, Michael Kientzle. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 596 people, or 45.3%, of the 1,890 people on the move arriving to Greece by sea in June 2021 were Afghans.

The number of people in the Greek island camps in the eastern Aegean is down to fewer than 5,400. According to DPA: “The figure from the Ministry of Migration includes those on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos in August. In June, the number stood at 7,700”.

For further information:

Photo: ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.