A United Nations special rapporteur has established that rights workers in Greece are facing “pervasive fear and insecurity,” particularly those focusing on the field of migration, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Friday.
Following a 10-day mission in Greece, Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, said “a number of interlocutors spoke about the negative perceptions concerning the role and work of civil society in the country … and the overall hostile atmosphere in which they work.”
People in the field of migration face criminal sanctions and operate in an “increasingly hostile environment influenced by negative rhetoric from high-ranking officials and their unfavorable portrayal in the media,” the UN expert said.
Greece has been facing criticism about its handling of migration, mostly over its illegal pushbacks, said HRW researcher Eva Cosse.
Citing Lawlor’s findings, she said human rights defenders found it increasingly difficult to carry out their duties, especially in fields that might be considered controversial or geopolitically sensitive.
This was particularly significant for those defending rights or giving legal aid to asylum seekers and migrants, as well as people documenting pushbacks, the report said.
The watchdog accused the Greek government of aiming to silence groups that document abuse of migrants and refugees, and trying to control the civil society “by implementing an increasingly restrictive legislative environment.”
Operations of several groups have been even more difficult after a controversial registration process for NGOs, which includes a disproportionate amount of requirements, was unveiled in 2019.
According to Lawlor’s report, the requirements are in violation of Greece’s obligations under international human rights law.
NGOs not registered with the Ministry of Migration and Asylum have no access to camps and cannot visit migrants or refugees.
In many cases, groups that have applied for registration faced disproportionate delays and unjustified rejections.
Greece has dropped 38 spots in a year on the Press Freedom Index, making it the lowest-ranked European Union country, the report said.
Lawlor will present her findings in detail at the UN Human Rights Council session in March next year, it added.