Athens’ migrant policy has ‘suffocating effect’ on human rights defenders, says expert of UN human rights body.
Human rights defenders in Greece are “under severe pressure” while trying to protect the refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in the country, the UN human rights body said on Wednesday.
“Geopolitical circumstances and a lack of support by the EU have led to questions being posed of Greece that many other States have not been asked concerning migration,” said UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor regarding the difficulties faced by the human rights defenders in Greece in a statement at the end of her 10-day visit to the country.
“The Government’s current approach to the issue is defined by its framing of migration as a matter of security and prevention,” she stressed, adding: “What this has fostered for refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and the human rights defenders acting in solidarity with them, is an atmosphere of fear – particularly a fear of criminalisation.”
“Defenders in the country working to ensure the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are respected, are currently under severe pressure,” she noted, saying migrants, who make efforts to make sure that their rights are protected, also face “heightened risk” in the country.
“At the tip of the spear are prosecutions, where acts of solidarity are reinterpreted as criminal activity, specifically the crime of people smuggling,” she underscored.
“The negative impact of such cases is multiplied by smear campaigns perpetuating this false image of defenders,” Lawlor criticized, underlining that the country’s migration policy has a “suffocating effect” on Greek civil society.
She pointed out that this policy creates “the climate of fear and insecurity” while also allowing high-ranking Greek authorities to “attack and undermine” the work of human rights NGOs.
The ones that are trying to demonstrate and prevent the pushbacks carried out by Greek security forces are “particularly at risk,” she said, emphasizing that these pushbacks “force refugees and migrants back over a border without consideration of their individual circumstances or the opportunity to apply for asylum.”
Voicing concerns about the situation of LGBTI people’s and women’s rights defenders in the country along with the journalists who work on issues related with human rights, especially migration and corruption, Lawlor called on Greece to “embrace the role of champion for the rights of these groups, and to work with them to develop pathways towards a more positive environment for their work.”
“Governments and the societies they are elected to represent have much to gain from the recognition and promotion of the work of human rights defenders. Greece is no exception,” the expert stressed.
“I urge the Government to approach all those working for the promotion of human rights in the country openly, and as allies, no matter the issues concerned.”
Türkiye and human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece’s illegal practice of pushing back asylum seekers, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.
Türkiye has been a key transit point for asylum seekers aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.
Already hosting 4 million refugees, more than any other country in the world, Türkiye is taking new security measures at its borders to humanely prevent a new influx of migrants.