Oxfam on Thursday urged the European Commission to sanction Greece for what it termed violations of migrants and refugees' rights after the government voted to suspend asylum procedures for one month owing to the coronavirus.
"Rather than protecting vulnerable people from the spread of the coronavirus, the Greek government is using the crisis to absolve itself from its obligations under international and EU law. The new law means that people who flee war and persecution have no chance of finding safety and protection when they arrive in Greece," said Oxfam's EU migration policy adviser, Raphael Shilhav.
"Families with children are already held in detention in absolutely inadequate conditions, waiting to be sent back to situations where they face threats to their lives and freedom," added Shilhav, condemning what he called "a clear-cut violation of EU law and the U.N. convention on refugees."
He urged Athens to drop the policy or face EU action over "this severe breach of fundamental rights."
Athens tightened its policy after Turkey last month decided to open its borders to migrants and refugees wishing to cross the border into EU member Greece, resorting to the use of teargas to push back thousands of people trying to make it into the country.
Board president of the Greek Council for Refugees, Vasileios Papadopoulos, added his voice to the criticism amid fears for the health of the thousands of migrants and refugees Greece is already hosting in camps.
"In light of the global COVID-19 health emergency, Greece and the other EU governments must act now to prevent a major health crisis in the refugee camps and beyond. As a first step, the Greek government should immediately protect the most vulnerable people by moving them to safe and appropriate accommodation," said Papadopoulos.
"Greece, along with EU institutions and other EU member states, should urgently restore access to fair asylum procedures," he said.
Oxfam noted that on Wednesday 121 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from some 20 EU states had called on Greece and the EU in an open letter to take urgent action to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in Greek refugee camps.
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