ATHENS – Greece respects the rights of asylum applicants, but is obliged to protect the borders and its own citizens, Migration & Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi said on Wednesday, speaking at the parliamentary committee working on a bill to change migration legislation.
Earlier, agencies and organizations called to express an opinion on the bill had overall agreed with it but posed questions for clarifications and expressed concerns over aspects of it. They expressed satisfaction that their proposals had been incorporated and asked for better guarantees of rights and for detention policy improvements, among others. In addition, MPs from several parties on the committee weighed in with their reviews.
"Our country respects International Law and the rights of those applying for asylum, which are absolutely respected," Mitarachi said, "but I have not heard anything about the rights of the country and of Greek citizens. I have not heard anything about the obligation the Greek state has to protect its borders and its citizens."
Among replies to a main opposition question, the minister said that the outstanding asylum applications are no longer 125,000 in total but 105,000, and are being reduced gradually. He also said the Asylum Service has retained the same two top officials that the previous government of Syriza appointed.
Responding to agencies about interpreters, he said the government is collaborating with Metadrasi organization and has signed an agreement for more interpreters. It's rarely a language cannot be accomodated, he said.
On the issue of returning migrants whose applications are rejected, Mitarachi said the extension of detention is only used when there is a lack of a better alternative.
The organizations represented included the UN High Commission for Refugees, the National Commision for Human Rights, the Greek ombudsman, the National Confederation of People with Disabilities, the Athens Bar Association, the METAdrasi Citizens Society Organization, the Hellenic Red Cross, the Social Youth Support Organization ARSIS, Amnesty International, the International Migration Organization, the Greek Refugees Forum, the Médecins du Monde and the head of the Unified Independent Authority of Public Contracts.
The bill passed the first stage of voting in principle.