Europe’s top human rights watchdog has lambasted Greece’s new bill aiming to regulate the deportations and returns of migrants, saying it poses serious restrictions on the activities of NGOs trying to save lives in the Aegean.
“The Greek parliament should reconsider a legislative proposal currently being discussed, which would seriously hinder the life-saving work carried out at sea by NGOs, and their human rights monitoring capacities in the Aegean”, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement on Friday.
“I call on members of the Parliament to draw on these recommendations to ensure that the bill, once adopted, fully reflects Greece’s obligations, including under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Refugee Convention,” she added.
The comment concerns specifically Article 40 of the bill that would introduce restrictions and conditions on the activities of civil society organisation in areas overlapping the competence of the Greek Coast Guard, while non-observance would result in heavy sanctions and fines.
Mijatovic said that this provision may “further jeopardise” NGOs’ rescue operations and “severely undermine the necessary scrutiny of the compliance of the operations of the Greek Coast Guard with human rights standards.”
She called on Greek lawmakers to reject these restrictions and the government to “work constructively” with NGOs. “They should refrain from harassing human rights defenders or obstructing their work, whether through legislative, judicial or administrative means,” she said.
The Commissioner also noted that the contentious provision was added to the bill after the closure of the public consultation period, so that no interested parties had a chance to provide feedback.
Apart from restrictions on NGOs, the Commissioner also said the bill “raised serious concerns” among the human rights community on its impact on the right to asylum, the prevention of pushbacks, remedies, safeguards in return procedures, and the prevention of automatic, large-scale detention.
“I am disappointed to learn that the comments and recommendations made by the national human rights structures and expert NGOs regarding the lack of sufficient human rights safeguards were not taken into consideration by the Greek authorities,” she said.