Geneva - We strongly condemn Greece’s new law prohibiting NGOs’ first-hand account of abuses inside refugee camps, said the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor in a statement today. The new confidentiality law is in essence an alarming measure to muzzle NGO workers and undermine their crucial role in highlighting the unbearable suffering asylum seekers are subjected to in infamous migrant camps.
Earlier this week, the Greek government has enacted a law that prevents all workers, including volunteers and government civil servants, from publicly sharing any information related to the operations or residents of refugee camps in the country, also after they have stopped working there. This means that NGO workers won’t be allowed to publicly raise any concerns about potential violations against asylum seekers in those camps or the inhumane conditions they are forced to live through, such as overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure, scarce food and water supply, and appalling sanitary conditions.
This is not the first attempt of the Greek government to restrict and criminalize solidarity and aid towards migrants. Since its victory at the elections in mid-2019, the right-wing New Democracy party has started pursuing a campaign against NGOs and civil society actors supporting refugees and asylum seekers, with some members also accusing NGOs of smuggling and trafficking people.
In July 2020, the government declared that all NGOs working in refugee camps would have to register in order to continue to work and many had to cease their operations. On that occasion, 73 organizations released a statement to condemn the unnecessary and disproportional barriers imposed on their work, essential to cover the gaps in the provision of basic services, including legal and medical assistance, housing, informal education and human rights’ monitoring.
It’s still uncertain how the new law will be implemented, but the mere fact of enacting it is already a clear sign of power and repressive control over asylum issues from the conservative government. The New Democracy party aims at showcasing its ability to curb migration flows within the country better than the previous left-wing Syriza government. Yet this control is done at the expense of refugees and asylum seekers’ human rights.
Both in the Greek islands and on the mainland, the poor and unsanitary conditions in refugee camps have been extensively documented. Euro-Med Monitor has recently collected first-hand material and information from Greek camps, showing the appalling and inhumane conditions that migrants are forced to endure in such sites.
“NGOs’ reporting from refugee camps offers timely eyewitness accounts of abuses, provides visibility to the struggles asylum seekers and refugees live daily and reminds political leaders both locally and globally that human rights’ violations will not go unnoticed” said Michela Pugliese, legal researcher at Euro-Med Monitor.
Euro-Med Monitor calls on Greece to urgently retract this new law; to engage in constructive dialogue with humanitarian workers and volunteers operating in refugee camps; and to concretely support, rather than hinder, their essential work to protect and fulfil migrants and asylum seekers’ fundamental rights.