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Europe's top rights body calls on Greece to amend migrant deportation bill

An Afghan woman with her three children walk outside the perimeter of the refugee camp at the port of Vathy on the eastern Aegean island of Samos, Greece, June 11, 2021.   -   CopyrightAP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

Greek authorities must amend a draft bill that would see NGOs fined for carrying out life-saving rescue of migrants at sea, the Council of Europe (CoE) said on Friday.

Dunja Mijatovic, Human Rights Commissioner for the CoE, said in a statement that the draft legislation currently being discussed by Greek parliamentarians "would hinder the life-saving work carried out at sea by NGOs, and their human rights monitoring capacities in the Aegean."

The CoE is an organisation founded in the wake of the Second World War tasked with upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law on the Old Continent. It comprises 47 member states.

Greece’s centre-right government has toughened border controls since taking office two years ago and has promised additional restrictions in response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.

Under a provision included in the Deportations and Return Bill currently being debated in parliament, members of charities involved in rescue operations conducted without coast guard permission could be jailed for up to a year and fined €1,000, with the NGOs facing additional fines.

"The Commissioner especially regrets that the provision in question was added to the Deportations and Returns Bill after the closure of the public consultation period, so that neither those primarily affected nor the national human rights structure were given a chance to provide their observations," the CoE statement added.

It also stressed that the draft legislation has "raised serious concerns" among the human rights community over the impact it may have on the right to asylum, the prevention of refoulement, and the prevention of automatic, large-scale detention.

"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.

Greece's draft bill comes as the European Union braces for an influx of migrants from Afghanistan following the Taliban's breathtaking sweep through the country to seize power.

Speaking at a security summit in Slovenia earlier this week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed support for a decision by EU home affairs ministers to seek cooperation with countries in the region “to prevent illegal migration from” Afghanistan.

“We (must) address the need to support refugees closer to the source of the problem, which is Afghanistan,” Mitsotakis said.


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