ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Europe’s highest human rights body called on the Greek parliament on Friday to withdraw articles from draft laws that would impose severe penalties on non-governmental organizations that carry out unauthorized rescue operations of migrants at sea.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said in a statement that the proposed changes would “seriously hinder the life-saving work of NGOs”.
Greece’s center-right government has tightened border controls since taking office two years ago and promised additional restrictions in response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. It recently extended a border wall along its border and installed a high-tech surveillance network.
Under the bill currently debated in Parliament, members of charities involved in rescue operations without Coast Guard approval could face up to a year imprisonment and a fine of € 1,000 (US $ 1,190) during the NGOs face additional fines. The bill also aims to simplify and speed up deportation procedures.
Mijatovic said some of the bill’s measures were tightened after a period of public consultation on the bill ended.
“Civil society organizations play a key role in protecting the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and play an important role in reporting and documenting pushbacks or other human rights violations,” she said.
Greece has denied repeated allegations by human rights groups that it carries out summary deportations or pushbacks that deny migrants the right to seek international protection.
Lesbos and other Greek islands near the Turkish coast were the main entry point for refugees and migrants into the European Union during mass displacement in 2015 and 2016, mainly caused by wars in Syria and Iraq. More than a million people used the route to get to Greece and other European countries during the crisis.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke at a security summit in Slovenia earlier this week in favor of a decision by the EU interior ministers to seek cooperation with countries in the region “to prevent illegal migration from” Afghanistan.
“I think what happened in 2015 was a mistake. We take note of it openly. We (must) address the need to help refugees closer to the source of the problem, Afghanistan, ”Mitsotakis said.
The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, was established in 1949 to oversee human rights across the continent and currently has 47 member states, including Turkey and Russia. It is an organization separate from the European Union.
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