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30th Jan 2023

New Greek rules stigmatise NGOs working with migrants

  • Asylum seekers and refugees in Greece rely heavily on NGOs for support (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

The Greek government is targeting NGOs working with migrants as part of a politicised effort to curtail asylum.

New ministerial rules introduced earlier this year and inserted into a wider migration law in May only apply to civil society groups that deal with refugees and asylum.

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Athens says the rules are needed for greater transparency and accountability but NGOs argue they also discriminate and are almost impossible to implement for smaller grassroots organisations.

Drafted by the Greek ministry of finance and the ministry of migration and asylum, the new rules impose extra conditions on the registration of civil society outfits.

"The law maintains a clear discretion on the ministry of migration and asylum to deny registration - even if the requirements are met," said Minos Mouzourakis, a legal officer at Refugee Support Aegean.

NGOs that help asylum seekers are now required to register with the ministry of asylum and migration. They are also required to be certified should they wish to receive state-level or EU funding.

In affect, the rules essentially prevent new NGOs from registering - because they are required to show financial statements dating back two years.

Chilling effect

Melina Spathari at Terre des Hommes Hellas, an international NGO, says a centralised updated registry of NGOs will enhance transparency.

But she pointed out that it only targets NGOs working with refugees, and requires they get audited by certified auditors, and other bureaucratic obligations, that risk creating a chilling effect.

"This new process will exclude many organisations because they don't have the budget to cover this exorbitant costs. We are talking about very small civil society organisations, grass roots," she said.

It also means asylum seekers and refugees may stand to lose out given many rely on the NGOs for basic needs in Greece.

Greece currently has around 86 registered NGOs working on migration. Of those, 73 are national and 13 international.

The previous government in Greece, voted out of power last summer, had set up a registry for NGOs. But the new registry for NGO staff created earlier this year is adding a whole new layer of requirements.

"This has happened in the context of a deteriorating public narrative around NGOs and specifically NGOs that work with asylum seekers and migrants and people on the move in general," said Adriana Tidona, a researcher on migration at Amnesty International's European office.

Tidona says the new rules are posing serious questions when it comes to the freedom of association, the freedom of expression, discrimination and the right to privacy.

"It is also concerning that the registration is basically entrusted to an authority which is not independent from the government," she said.

Also known as the 'special coordinating secretary', it can approve or revoke registrations at any moment.

Doctors of the World Greece said the secretary's power is too great, noting it will be able to reject an application even if all the legal requirements are met.

"As it stands, the law seems to have been activated in order to punish and exclude NGOs from public affairs instead of regulating their action by integrating them into a transparent and accountable collaborative framework with the state and citizens," said Elli Xenou at Doctors of the World Greece.

Such moves appear to align with public statements made by politicians from Greece's ruling party New Democracy, who have accused some NGOs of smuggling and people trafficking.

More recently, Greece's migration and asylum minister, Notis Mitarachi blamed NGOs without providing evidence, for mismanaging some €1.3bn EU funds between 2015 and 2019.

Tacit support

The move comes amid heightened tensions over migration following Turkey's failed bid to send thousands of refugee hopefuls into Greece in March.

It also comes amid ongoing silence by a European Commission on alleged rights abuses in Greece after the country suspended asylum applications for a month.

Asked to comment on the new rules, the European Commission has yet to respond to this website.

But in March, the European Commission's vice-president Margaritis Schinas tasked to promote 'our European way of life' offered a clue.

"EU support will be unequivocal," said Schinas when asked about Greece suspending asylum claims.

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