Greece’s Parliament should align the deportations and return bill with human rights standards

 “The Greek parliament should reconsider a legislative proposal currently being discussed, which would seriously hinder the life-saving work carried out at sea by NGOs, and their human rights monitoring capacities in the Aegean”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, today.

Article 40 of the Deportations and Return Bill would introduce restrictions and conditions on the activities of civil society organisation in areas of competence of the Greek Coast Guard, and non-observance of these will be subject to heavy sanctions and fines. As stressed in a letter the Commissioner addressed to the Greek authorities last May, civil society organisations are instrumental in protecting the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, and play a major role in reporting and documenting pushbacks or other human rights violations. She is therefore concerned about this provision which may further jeopardise NGOs’ human rights activities in relation to persons arriving by sea, and severely undermine the necessary scrutiny of the compliance of the operations of the Greek Coast Guard with human rights standards.

The Commissioner especially regrets that the provision in question was added to the Deportations and Returns Bill after the closure of the public consultation period, so that neither those primarily affected nor the national human rights structures were given a chance to provide their observations. She urges Greek legislators to reject the restrictions envisaged in Article 40 of the Deportations and Returns Bill, and to recognise the human rights work of NGOs saving lives at sea in keeping with their status as human rights defenders. In line with her Recommendation of 2019, and follow-up report of March 2021, the Commissioner calls on all Council of Europe member states, including Greece, to work constructively with NGOs in ensuring that the lives and rights of people at risk at sea are protected, and to create an enabling environment for human rights defenders. They should refrain from harassing human rights defenders or obstructing their work, whether through legislative, judicial or administrative means.

Apart from restrictions on NGOs, the Commissioner also takes note of the fact that the Deportations and Returns Bill has raised serious concerns among the human rights community as regards its impact on, for example, the right to asylum, the prevention of refoulement, remedies, safeguards in return procedures, and the prevention of automatic, large-scale detention. “I am disappointed to learn that the comments and recommendations made by the national human rights structures and expert NGOs regarding the lack of sufficient human rights safeguards were not taken into consideration by the Greek authorities. I call on members of the Parliament to draw on these recommendations to ensure that the Bill, once adopted, fully reflects Greece’s obligations, including under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Refugee Convention.”