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Greece: Inhumane asylum measures will put lives at risk

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The inhumane measures which the Greek authorities are taking to prevent people from entering the country are an appalling betrayal of Greece’s human rights responsibilities and will put the lives of people fleeing violence at risk, Amnesty International said today.

Yesterday, following a meeting of Greece’s National Security Council, the authorities announced they would temporarily suspend the registration of asylum claims from people who enter the country irregularly. This measure will be coupled with the immediate return without registration of new arrivals if the return to their country of origin is “possible.” It’s not clear how the Greek authorities are interpreting “possible” in this context.

“Everyone has a right to seek asylum. Deporting people without due process could mean sending them back to the horrors of war or expose them to grave human rights violations, breaching the fundamental principle of non-refoulement,” said Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

‘’The reckless measures being taken by the Greek authorities are a blatant breach of EU and international law that will put lives at risk. People seeking asylum are once again being used as bargaining chips in a callous political game.”

Greece also announced that from today its armed forces will conduct exercises with live ammunition near the Evros land border and the Aegean Sea. Thousands of people have gathered at Turkey’s land and sea borders since the Turkish authorities announced on 28 February they would no longer prevent people from crossing there.

According to reports thousands of people have arrived at the borders of Turkey with Greece. Since last Thursday, clashes have been reported between Greek police and people at the land border, with the police using excessive force and indiscriminately firing tear gas into crowds to stop them from crossing into Greece.

Meanwhile, arrivals have increased on the Greek islands and yesterday, according to reports, locals on Lesvos prevented boats from coming ashore. They also attacked activists and the cars of volunteers and journalists. Amnesty is urging the Greek authorities to take all possible measures to protect people arriving in Greece and the organizations and individuals who are on the ground supporting them.

“Greece must refrain from using excessive force and ensure search and rescue operations can operate at sea. People who are seeking asylum in Greece should be helped, not treated as criminals or a security threat,” said Eve Geddie.

“EU member states must also do far more to share responsibility for asylum seekers arriving in Turkey, both through financial support and ensuring safe pathways to Europe.

“The European Commission must also urgently coordinate any support that might be required to Greece and Bulgaria, to ensure asylum seekers have access to adequate reception and asylum procedures."