A tender totaling 142 million Euro funded by the EU has been published by Greek authorities for the construction of two closed controlled camps on Lesvos and Chios and the upgrade of a pre-removal detention facility in the Evros region. A new legislation package with the aim of increasing deportations and returns from Greece was presented to the cabinet on 31 May. In a long awaited response to parliamentary questions from February, Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson states that asylum seekers whose application has been deemed inadmissible on the basis of Turkey being regarded a safe third country, despite Turkeys suspension of returns should reapply.

EU has invested 3 billion Euro in security technology research following the peak of arrivals in 2015-16 and the expansion of the toolbox of securitisation and deterrence is visible in Greece. The extensive list of “futuristic measures” developed in cooperation with private firms tested and introduced in projects in Greece include an automated surveillance network under construction at the Greek-Turkish border with river and land patrols using searchlights and long-range acoustic devices, AI-powered lie detectors and virtual border-guard interview bots, integrated satellite data with footage from drones on land, air, sea and underwater. Palm scanners for biometric identification, live camera reconstruction technology, extensive EU funded measures to amplify security in refugee camps across Greece including drones, magnetic gates with integrated thermographic cameras, X-ray machines and security cameras. The most recent example is a 142 million Euro tender for the construction of two closed controlled structures on Lesvos and Chios as well as an upgrade of the Fylakio pre-removal detention centre in the Evros region based on EU funding from the Extraordinary Support Mechanism and the European Internal Security Fund (ISF). Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Mijatović stated: “I am concerned that this will lead to large-scale and long-term deprivation of liberty… which has very harmful effects on their mental health, especially on children.” The new tender has been launched despite resistance at local level. On Samos, the establishment of a new camp was also met with protests. Meanwhile, the situation remains dire for refugees and asylum seekers across Greece. In the so-called Moria 2.0 camp on Lesvos, conditions are deteriorating in the hot weather and people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are left in overcrowded containers in the quarantine section without treatment or isolation from people who tested negative. The Eleonas camp in Athens, once considered a model camp, has seen its population grow from 1,900 people to 3,000 with more arriving as people are transferred from the islands and is turning “into a new crowded hotspot”. At a recent debate in the European Parliament on the European Pact on Migration and Asylum organised by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), Greek migration minister Notis Mitarachi stated: “First reception countries should not themselves participate in having to integrate refugees as already we provide for border protection, reception capacity, and asylum processing.”

A new legislation package was presented by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum at a cabinet meeting on 31 May and set to be submitted to parliament. According to local media: “The bill will seek in particular to increase the number of deportations”. Accordingly, authorities will apply:” deportation procedures rather than those used for returns as the latter are more complex and time consuming” for people apprehended after arriving irregularly. Further, the bill includes restrictions on voluntary departures and provisions on the validity of identification cards for asylum seekers. Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) foresees necessary amendments to the not yet published bill noting that: “Many parts of Greek law already infringe EU Directives”.

In her response to parliamentary questions from MEP Erik Marquardt, Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, Commissioner Johansson referring to Article 38(4) of the Asylum Procedures Directive states: “where the third country does not permit the applicant to enter its territory, Member States shall ensure that access to [an asylum] procedure is given’. In line with that provision, applicants whose application has been declared inadmissible are therefore able to apply again”. Further, Johansson notes: ”In re-examining and deciding on those applications, Greece will need to take into account the circumstances at the time of the (re-)examination of the individual applications, including with regard to the prospect of return in line with the EU-Turkey Statement. In the meantime, applicants shall have access to material reception conditions under the conditions set out under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, EU and national law”.

The ongoing crack-down on civil society by Greek authorities continues with a “criminalisation campaign” against Josoor, an organisation coordinating emergency relief for refugees stuck in the crossfire between Turkey and Europe. Further, with no credible reason, Greek police obstructed the work of reporters covering pushbacks taking them in for questioning. Even the rights of public servants are eroding as the Ministry of Migration and Asylum has imposed unprecedented censorship against its own officials, releasing a circular underlining that: “Sworn testimony against the Greek State is a disciplinary and criminal offence”.  The Executive Committee of ADEDY, the union of public/civil servants calls the circular unconstitutional, arbitrary and unacceptable and demands that the government revoke it immediately.

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