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Rights body raps Greece over migrant rescue crackdown

September 3, 2021 GMT
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, arrives for a meeting of the Bled Strategic Forum at the Bled Festival Hall in Bled, Slovenia, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. The Bled Strategic Forum gathers participants from various fields to discuss solutions to present and future challenges. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, arrives for a meeting of the Bled Strategic Forum at the Bled Festival Hall in Bled, Slovenia, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. The Bled Strategic Forum gathers participants from various fields to discuss solutions to present and future challenges. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, arrives for a meeting of the Bled Strategic Forum at the Bled Festival Hall in Bled, Slovenia, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. The Bled Strategic Forum gathers participants from various fields to discuss solutions to present and future challenges. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Europe’s top human rights body on Friday called on Greece’s parliament to withdraw articles included in draft legislation that would impose heavy penalties on nongovernmental organizations that carry out unsanctioned rescue operations of migrants at sea.

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement that the proposed changes would “seriously hinder the life-saving work” carried out by NGOs.

Greece’s center-right government has toughened border controls since taking office two years ago and has promised additional restrictions in response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. It has recently extended a border wall along its frontier and installed a high-tech surveillance network.

Under draft legislation currently being debated in parliament, members of charities involved in rescue operations conducted without coast guard permission could be jailed for up to a year and fined 1,000 euros ($1,190), with the NGOs facing additional fines. The bill is also aimed at simplifying and speeding up deportation procedures.

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Mijatovic said some of the measures in the bill had been toughened after a period of public consultation for the draft legislation had ended.

“Civil society organizations 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 said.

Greece has rejected repeated allegations by human rights groups that it carries out summary deportations, or pushbacks, that deny migrants the right to seek international protection.

Lesbos and other Greek islands close to the coast of Turkey were the main entry point for refugees and migrants into the European Union during mass displacements in 2015 and 2016 largely caused by wars in Syria and Iraq. More than a million people used the route to cross into Greece and onto other European countries during the crisis.

Speaking at a security summit in Slovenia earlier this week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed support for a decision by EU home affairs ministers to seek cooperation with countries in the region “to prevent illegal migration from” Afghanistan.

“I think what happened in 2015 was a mistake. We acknowledge it openly. We (must) address the need to support refugees closer to the source of the problem, which is Afghanistan,” Mitsotakis said.

Based in Strasbourg, France, the Council of Europe was founded in 1949 to monitor human rights across the continent, and currently has 47 member states including Turkey and Russia. It is a distinct organization from the European Union.

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