ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Europe’s top human rights body on Friday called on Greece’s parliament to withdraw articles included in draft legislation that would impose heavy penalties on nongovernmental organizations that carry out unsanctioned rescue operations of migrants at sea.
The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement that the proposed changes would “seriously hinder the life-saving work” carried out by NGOs.
Greece’s center-right government has toughened border controls since taking office two years ago and has promised additional restrictions in response to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.
Under draft legislation currently being debated in parliament, members of charities involved in rescue operations conducted without coast guard permission could be jailed for up to a year and fined 1,000 euros ($1,190), with the NGOs facing additional fines.
Lesbos and other Greek islands close to the coast of Turkey were the main entry point for refugees and migrants into the European Union during mass displacements in 2015 and 2016 largely caused by wars in Syria and Iraq.
Speaking at a security summit in Slovenia earlier this week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed support for a decision by EU home affairs ministers to seek cooperation with countries in the region “to prevent illegal migration from” Afghanistan.
“I think what happened in 2015 was a mistake. We acknowledge it openly. We (must) address the need to support refugees closer to the source of the problem, which is Afghanistan,” Mitsotakis said.
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The Associated Press