Children help with the laundry in the refugee camp of Moria, on Lesbos island, Greece | Photo: EPA/Orestis Panagiotou
Children help with the laundry in the refugee camp of Moria, on Lesbos island, Greece | Photo: EPA/Orestis Panagiotou

Greek authorities have denied at least 625 people who arrived on the island of Lesbos between March 1 and 18 the right to seek asylum, the organization Human Rights Watch claims.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Greek government to guarantee access to asylum in a statement released on March 20.

The organization said that "authorities are detaining 189 new arrivals on the island of Lesbos in unacceptable conditions. The other 436 were transported to a closed center in Malakassa, north of Athens, in conditions that are as yet unknown."

On March 1, Athens had suspended access to asylum for 30 days for people who irregularly entered the country. New arrivals are supposed to be deported immediately ''where possible, to their countries of origin'' or to transit countries, such as Turkey, without registering them.

'Greece can't suspend fundamental rights'

"For up to two weeks, the authorities have been holding women, men, and children -- many of them fleeing war and persecution -- in the open in cold temperatures, denying their right to seek asylum and preventing them from getting the humanitarian and legal assistance they need and are entitled to,'' said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. ''Greece may be facing challenges on many fronts, from the coronavirus to a surge in arrivals, but it does not mean it can suspend fundamental rights or humane treatment.''

'Denying access to asylum is inhumane, illegal'

Human Rights Watch said Greece has the right to control its borders and manage crossings into the country but is bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees the right to seek asylum. "Denying people access to asylum is inhumane and illegal. It may violate the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, the prohibition on returning refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to face persecution or serious violations of their rights," the organization said.

HRW called on Greece to immediately reverse its decision to suspend access to asylum. The organization also called on the European Commission to urge Greece to reinstate asylum procedures and to put pressure on Greek authorities to ensure that new arrivals are not detained arbitrarily.


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