|On 3 September 2021, a reform bill on the deportations and return procedures of third-country nationals was adopted by the Greek Parliament, passed exclusively by a majority of the ruling party.
During the drafting stage, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, expressed serious reservations about the bill, and effectively called for its withdrawal as it ‘is not aligned with human rights standards’ and ‘would seriously hinder the life‑saving work carried out by NGOs and their human rights monitoring capacities in the Aegean’.
1. Does the Commission consider this legislation, and in particular Article 40 which introduces restrictions that essentially prohibit and penalise any NGO action to carry out or aid sea rescue operations, compatible with the Greek Government’s obligation to comply with human rights and the relevant Commission guidelines(1)?
2. Does the Commission condone the tendentious method by which Article 40 was introduced after the end of the public consultation period?
3. Does the Commission find that, by curtailing all relevant NGO activities, the Greek Government is inhibiting the right to asylum, the safeguarding of the legal process for all return procedures, the prevention of refoulement and the prevention of automatic, large-scale illegal detentions?
Konstantinos Arvanitis (The Left), Dimitrios Papadimoulis (The Left), Stelios Kouloglou (The Left), Elena Kountoura (The Left), Cornelia Ernst (The Left), Dietmar Köster (S&D), Domènec Ruiz Devesa (S&D), Tineke Strik (Verts/ALE), Erik Marquardt (Verts/ALE), Ernest Urtasun (Verts/ALE), Clare Daly (The Left), Pernando Barrena Arza (The Left), José Gusmão (The Left), Anne-Sophie Pelletier (The Left), Leila Chaibi (The Left), Marisa Matias (The Left), Sira Rego (The Left), Malin Björk (The Left), Eugenia Rodríguez Palop (The Left), Milan Brglez (S&D), Damien Carême (Verts/ALE), Salima Yenbou (Verts/ALE)
Answer given by Ms Johansson
on behalf of the European Commission
The Commission recognises the genuine efforts of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) aimed at preventing loss of life of migrants at sea and continuously urges Member States and other involved actors to comply with the relevant legal and humanitarian framework.
As regards the possibility to fine NGOs participating in Search and Rescue operations, the Commission recalls that the duty to render assistance to persons or vessels in distress at sea is an obligation under international law and that humanitarian assistance mandated by law cannot be criminalised. At the same time, it is for the Member States’ authorities to coordinate Search and Rescue events in accordance with the applicable rules of international maritime and human rights law. It is important that NGOs participating in Search and Rescue operations cooperate with national authorities in the exercise of their activities.
The Commission has repeatedly acknowledged the key role that civil society plays in upholding common values and fundamental rights. While activities of private entities,
including NGOs, need to be regulated with a view to ensure full transparency, any restrictions imposed, as a precondition for any activities in Greece, need to be necessary, justified and proportionate. In this respect, the Commission will continue to monitor the transposition and implementation of EU law on asylum and returns, and reiterates that Member States must act in full compliance with relevant international and EU law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.