Europe still reluctant to come up with humane migrant strategies

Published 01.11.2019 15:12

The Greek parliament passed a new, tougher asylum law on Friday in a bid to accelerate the distribution of refugees and the expulsion of migrants even as it faces criticism from international human rights watchdogs.

Parliament voted in favour of the new law after a marathon debate stretching from Thursday morning until the early hours of Friday.

Conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had promised the overhaul of the asylum procedure after he took over in July, saying that Greece simply cannot cope with tens of thousands of people stuck in the inefficient system.

Addressing parliament before the vote, Mitsotakis said he wanted a "transparent and functional system" that will protect refugees, but without "opening the gates" to everyone.

"Those who know they do not merit asylum but try to enter and stay in our country will no longer be tolerated," he added.

His statements showed the current inhumane view of migrants from the European perspective, by mentioning them as political burdens, rather than human beings in need of assistance.

This lack of understanding and empathy towards migrants shows in the attitude of European political figures in their speeches and in their general approach to issues about migrants.

The start of Mitsotakis' term coincided with a surge in migrant arrivals and the overwhelming of camps set up on Greece's Aegean islands to process asylum applications.

With the number of arrivals at a two-year high and the processing slow going, the migrant population on the islands has swelled from 14,000 in April to around 35,000, which is around six times the capacity of the camps.

The situation in the camps "appalled" the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, who on Thursday said Greece must urgently improve the situation there.

"Urgent measures are needed to address the desperate conditions in which thousands of human beings are living," Dunja Mijatovic said after visiting the so-called hot spots for the processing of asylum applications on Lesbos, Samos and in Corinth, on the mainland.

The European human rights chief said she was appalled by the unhygienic conditions in camps on the islands, which the migrants and asylum seekers are not permitted to leave.

While welcoming the Greek government's plan to transfer 20,000 migrants from the islands to the mainland by the end of the year, she also urged a change to the policy of keeping the migrants on the islands, warning that overcrowding will otherwise continue.

But international organizations, as well as several groups in Greece, criticized the draft bill, warning it disregards the rights of the asylum seekers.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week said the asylum bill was a "naked attempt to block access to protection and increase deportations in the face of the recent increase in arrivals."

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) earlier said the new rules "will endanger people who need international protection" and could lead to the expulsion of many back to countries where their lives may be under serious threat.

With overcrowded Greek migrant camps facing explosive new problems, a top EU legal adviser said Thursday that Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic broke European Union law by refusing to comply with a refugee quota program meant to address such challenges.

The legal opinion strikes to the core of Europe's migrant crisis since 2015 — its struggle to create a unified migrant policy — a challenge that is resurfacing as Greece faces a new surge of migrant arrivals.

Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston recommended that the European Court of Justice — the EU's highest court — should rule that the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland "have failed to fulfill their obligations under EU law" to take in refugees. Such legal opinions are not legally binding but are often followed by the court.

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