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30th Nov 2022

UN envoy: Greece breaking international rights law

  • Asylum seekers and refugees in Greece rely heavily on NGOs for support (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
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Greece is in violation of international human rights law, according to UN special envoy Mary Lawlor.

Speaking to reporters in Athens on Wednesday (22 June), Lawlor said Greek registration rules on NGOs working on migration and asylum are discriminatory.

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"The register has to be amended and it can't be discriminatory and it can't be disproportionate," she said.

"It has to be in compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it isn't," she said.

The Greek government in early 2020 introduced new ministerial rules which impose extra conditions on the registration of civil society and NGOs working on asylum.

The rules require them to register with the ministry of asylum and migration — in a move the Athens government said would improve transparency.

But NGOs said the register was in fact designed to squeeze out critical civil voices and imposed onerous bureaucratic hurdles to prevent others from helping migrants and asylum seekers.

For instance, those not registered are unable to access asylum seekers and migrants in facilities where they are held.

Similar views were echoed by Lawlor, who said there is a wide discretion afforded to authorities to refuse to register applicant NGOs.

Lawlor said that such 'discretion' in fact restricts civil society space and significantly enhances the control of the state over the work of NGOs in the field of migration.

"Individual human rights defenders are not able to obtain registration," she pointed out.

Rights defenders in Greece

But Lawlor also took aim at how some media and political leaders in Greece criminalise aid workers.

"Solidarity should never be punished and compassion should never be put on trial," she said.

She noted that such criminalisation and stigmatisation of rights defenders picked up pace in 2019.

She also took aim at Greece's migration code, which implements the EU facilitator's package aimed at cracking down on smugglers.

The Greek law criminalises both the facilitation of irregular entry and transit of people from outside the EU and their residence.

"However, Greek law does not define which acts or omissions constitute facilitation in this regard," she said.

The vague language means legitimate conduct by human rights defenders are targeted by police, she said.

This includes coordinating humanitarian assistance at refugee vessel arrival points along the coastlines.

"Putting human rights defenders on trial for such conduct undermines their work," she said.

Lawlor drew her conclusions after numerous meetings and visits held in Greece from 13 to 22 June.

She will present her final report to the United Nations Human Rights Council next March.

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