Greece on Friday approved a law tightening asylum procedures that has been widely criticized by rights groups as harmful to the interests of migrants.
The government says the new rules will allow it to focus on swiftly identifying refugees that need protection, instead of being bogged down by thousands of applications by economic migrants which it says are not entitled to asylum.
“These adjustments establish a compact law on international protection,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told lawmakers before the bill was approved by his conservative party majority, with support from the socialists.
Mitsotakis said Greece’s asylum system till now “was in a state of prolonged paralysis” with nearly 70,000 pending requests.
“It gave the signal that people could come to Greece and stay for unspecified periods of time, without any scrutiny,” said the conservative PM who was elected in July on promises to bolster border patrols at land and sea.
“This law … sends a clear message: enough with those who attempt to enter and remain in our country whilst knowing that they are not entitled to asylum,” he said.
Human rights groups have strongly criticized the bill, saying it introduces stricter rules for receiving asylum seekers, delays access to the right to work, narrows the definition of family, and imposes more burdens on torture victims in being recognized as such.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic also noted Thursday that the draft she had seen, during a five-day visit to Greece and talks with officials, “raises concerns from a human rights perspective.”
Greece is facing its highest migrant arrival levels in the past three years, with hundreds of asylum-seekers arriving daily from neighboring Turkey.
After Mitsotakis earlier this month said that refugees and economic migrants are “besieging” Europe, rights groups warned the government against using language that incites intolerance.
On Thursday, Greece’s minister for police Michalis Chrysohoidis said that unless Greece was adequately prepared, the migration wave “will roll over us.”
There has already been sporadic opposition from local towns to efforts by the government to relocate asylum-seekers from badly overcrowded camps on Greek islands facing Turkey.
On Thursday, Mijatovic warned that the migrants confined to the squalid camps are “on the edge of catastrophe,” adding that it’s an “unacceptable situation.”