UN Agency Frets Over Greece’s Revised Refugee, Migrant Asylum Plan

FILE - Refugees and migrants sit inside a bus at the toll stations of Malgara, near the Greek port city of Thessaloniki. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Joining a chorus of condemnation from some human rights groups, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) agency said it had big reservations about the New Democracy plan to toughen asylum standards and speed deportations of those deemed ineligible.

Greece is overwhelmed with more than 78,000 of refugees and migrants, including 28,000 on islands that Turkey let human traffickers send during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union, and as there has been a surge in new arrivals since the Conservatives took power in July 7 snap elections, ousting the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.

They had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan, only to be blocked by the European Union, which closed its borders to them, leaving the only option being sanctuary in Greece or sent back to Turkey to an unknown fate.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government is moving thousands off islands to the mainland, where another 50,000 are being held in detention centers and camps but residents of a village near Thessaloniki blocked buses carrying 400 of them, forcing a diversion.

He also wants to send 20,000 back to Turkey which has taken only a relative handful since the swap deal was signed and as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to unleash millions more during a feud with the EU over his country’s invasion of northern Syria.

The New Democracy proposal before Parliament with the Conservatives rule with a majority and can pass what the want wuld reduce safeguards for people seeking international protection and put more pressure on overstretched administrative and judicial authorities, UNHCR said in a statement, the news agency Reuters reported.

“The proposed changes will endanger people who need international protection,” said Philippe Leclerc, the UNHCR representative in Greece.

“Greece has the opportunity to adopt a robust law through a genuine and constructive consultation to ensure fair and efficient asylum procedures in the country. This is an objective we are here to support,” he said.

New Democracy said it had to make changes after blaming SYRIZA for a shambolic reaction to the refugee crisis which began when the Leftists took power and with human rights groups and activists saying refugees and migrants had been penned up in sub-human conditions.

UNHCR said that under certain circumstances the right of a person to appeal against rejection of their asylum application is curtailed in such a manner that their rights to an effective legal remedy would be compromised.

More than 12,000 people arrived in Greece in September, the largest number in the three-and-a-half years since the EU agreed a deal with Turkey to seal the Aegean corridor to Europe, the news agency also noted in its report.