Without the permission of the Greek Coast Guard, NGOs are not allowed to rescue immigrants with the help of private boat owners – this is the main message of the new law passed by the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum.
Violators face severe fines. The law establishes strict criteria for the participation of non-governmental organizations in the process of rescuing refugees and migrants in the Aegean Sea and other seas. Law No. 4825 entitled “Reform of procedures for deportation and return of third-country nationals, attraction of investors and digital nomads, residence permit issues and international protection procedures, and other provisions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Civil Protection” dated 4.09.2021 and Friday voted by parliament. Its Article 40 states that Greek and international voluntary organizations, civil society organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as their members, employees and associates, can act in the area of responsibility of the Greek Coast Guard (LS – EL.AKT.) If :
they are registered in the register of Greek and foreign NGOs maintained by the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum, and their employees and partners are registered in the respective register of members; act in accordance with the orders and instructions of the port authorities, provided that they have been included in the local emergency plans in advance and that they have not taken any assistance voyages without the prior authorization of their actions by the competent port authority; they are actively involved in the incident of managing the illegal entry of people by sea, provided that action by the coast guard is impossible and the competent authorities have been informed and given their written consent.
The penalties in the event that someone ignores the case law are very severe. Offenders are punished with imprisonment for up to 1 year, and if the crime leads to an accident, especially during a rescue operation at sea, then the punishment is imprisonment for at least 3 years. NGOs face fines ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 euros, and from 500 to 1,000 euros for each individual who is arrested.
The reaction to the new law followed immediately, primarily from the opposition. And Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, demanded his recall. However, the Greek government is adamant. It argues that the new law is intended to drastically limit the wave of forthcoming refugee flows after the events in Afghanistan.