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The Greek government has passed a new asylum law to deal with its overflowing migrant camps, and many human rights groups are criticizing the move. According to the government’s civil protection minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, the new law proposes to speed up and ‘streamline’ the unwieldy process of seeking asylum in Greece. It proposes to do so by lengthening the maximum detention of asylum seekers from 3 to 18 months, as well as reducing the categories under which people can claim asylum, amongst other things. It also allows for the detention of children under a ‘protective scheme’, which Human Rights Watch has investigated and found that children are forced to live in unsafe, unsanitary conditions, alongside adults they do not know and abusive police.
Many human rights groups have condemned the new law because it removes many safeguards for asylum seekers. Human Rights Watch called it a “naked attempt to block access to protection and increase deportations”. According to the Greek Reporter, 15 human rights organizations opposed the passing of the law at the time of its drafting, because the new process would cut corners and would not “allow adequate time for review and commentary” on administrative decisions regarding asylum seekers. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the law “puts an excessive burden on asylum seekers and focuses on punitive measures.”
This new law comes amidst one of the worst migrant crises Greece has seen, with more than 45,000 potential asylum seekers coming from Turkey this year. These refugees are housed on the Aegean islands between the two countries, which are severely under-equipped to deal with the sheer numbers of incoming people. Fires have broken out in the cramped living conditions, and a young boy was run over by a truck. The idea is that the islands are a transitory space between Turkey and Greece, as part of a deal struck between the two countries. However, people wait for years to have their claims to be heard, all the while more people are coming and the islands are becoming more crowded.
This is a difficult issue to deal with because all asylum seekers have a right to due process and an adequate clearing of their claim. However, because of the sheer number of people coming through, an element of expediency is needed. The islands are becoming inadequate for the job, and more expansion is needed. One thing is for certain, the rights and safety of these extremely vulnerable people cannot be compromised for the sake of efficiency. These refugees are coming from war zones and have experienced horrible traumas, and deserve a safe place to live.