ATHENS – A United Nation’s Special Rapporteur added to criticism of Greece’s handling of refugees and migrants seeking asylum and jammed in detention camps, calling for an independent monitoring agency.
Speaking in the Greek capital after a 10-day visit to assess human rights for the refugees and migrants who wait up to two years or more for sanctuary applications to be reviewed, Mary Lawlor said more needs to be done, said Kathimerini.
She said while the “National Transparency Authority has made some welcome contributions in the fight against corruption, it is not equipped to conduct independent investigations into the management of migration flows.”
She said the New Democracy government that has denied constant reports about refugees and migrants being pushed back must ensure that the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is implemented and consider making it part of national law “to clarify the misconceptions currently prevailing about the role and rights of human rights defenders.”
The refugees and migrants are coming to Greece from Turkey, mostly to five Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast and the border near the Evros River, Turkey letting human smugglers keep sending them in violation of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union.
They had gone to Turkey fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, mostly Syria and Afghanistan, and found Greece the destination of choice after the EU closed its borders to them.
Human rights groups and activists as well as non-government organizations (NGO’s) – some charged with aiding human traffickers by helping rescue refugees and migrants at sea – have complained about inhumane conditions in detention centers before newer facilities were built.
Lawlor also said that Greece should bring the law on human smuggling fully in compliance with UN protocols as the “broad and vague” existing legislation “gives the opportunity for its misuse in criminal proceedings and in some cases has led to the prosecution of human rights defenders for their legitimate human rights work,” the paper said.
She added that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government should also
“publicly acknowledge and commend the legitimate work of human rights defenders and the innumerable contributions they have made to the promotion and protection of human rights,” despite some being prosecuted.
“Creating an enabling environment, free from intimidation, restrictive administrative and criminal laws is key for a thriving civil society,” Lawlor said but there was no word of a response from the government which has frequently denied reports of pushbacks, including from Turkey’s Coast Guard.
The UN official, on her first official visit to Greece, has no authority but to make recommendations which can be ignored and met with a range of government officials, as well as those from the Coast Guard, police, judges, lawyers, members of civil society, including international and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights defenders and journalists. She also met with representatives of international organizations and UN agencies and program and travelled to Lesbos, Chios, Samos and Thessaloniki where she visited detention camps.
She lauded “the efforts made by the government to improve the situation of those seeking asylum on its territory,” although the government vowed to keep them out.
She added that she was “disheartened to hear from a number of interlocutors about negative perceptions concerning the role and work of civil society in the country,” the paper’s report added.