In Greece, new rules mean that NGOs have to register with the government to continue working in migrant camps. 22 have been asked to cease operations.
The Greek government announced on Wednesday that 22 migrant support groups would have to stop working in migrant camps because they had failed to meet a June 14 registration deadline.
According to the news agency Agence France Presse (AFP) there are 40 non-government organizations (NGOs) currently active in the camps on the Greek islands and the mainland. 22 of them that failed to register in time for a "first approval phase" will now be asked to cease operations.
In total, 70 organizations have made it through the registration process to a "second-phase evaluation," AFP reports. Once registered, NGOs will have their budgets scrutinized and their staff checked for criminal records.
New government policy
The registration process, which was first discussed in November 2019, is part of a series of measures introduced by Greece's conservative government to make the country "less attractive" to migrants, says AFP.
In the past, Greece's migration minister, Notis Mitarakis, has said that the rules governing NGO operations were "too flexible" and open to exploitation. In early June, Mitarakis told the Greek parliament: "Do you want to hand over the keys to NGOs? I don't want that… cooperation with NGOs is positive, but the [overall] responsibility is ours."
NGOs have spoken out against the measures. They say this kind of
registration could hinder their operations. The group Refugee Support
Aegean (RSA) tweeted at the beginning of June that the "new rules
stigmatize NGOs working with migrants."
The EU Observer called the Greek government's policy a "politicized effort to curtail asylum." It said the rules were introduced earlier this year and became part of a wider migration law in May.
The Greek government says that the rules are needed for "transparency and accountability." However, smaller grassroots organizations say they are "almost impossible" to implement.
A legal officer at RSA, Minos Mouzourakis, told EU Observer that the law gives the migration ministry the power to stop NGOs from registering even if they meet the requirements.
One of the requirements for registering, reports EU Observer, is to "show financial statements dating back two years," which effectively blocks any newly-formed NGOs from registering.
Melina Spathari from the Greek branch of the international organization Terre des Hommes, told EU Observer that many organizations don't have the budget to cover the "exorbitant costs" of being audited by the government-approved authority. She said most of the smaller organizations are very "grassroots."
Adriana Tidona, a researcher on migration at Amnesty International told EU Observer that the new registration and audit rules were happening in "the context of a deteriorating public narrative around NGOs and specifically NGOs that work with asylum seekers and migrants and people on the move in general."
Doctors of the World Greece is worried that the registration authority is not independent of the government itself. The governing New Democracy party has some members who have accused NGOs of smuggling and people trafficking.
AFP and the EU Observer also point out that Mitarakis has questioned the allocation of the €1.3 billion EU funds that arrived in the country between 2015 and 2019. More than 80% of the money was sent directly to international organizations and NGOs, according to AFP. The minister asked in parliament whether this was the right way to proceed and said the government needed to be more "aware of the procedures," in future.
17, RSA tweeted a report by the English edition of the Greek
newspaper Kathimerini, which claimed that there are now "only 18
NGOs granted the right to enter migrant centers." The article said that the names of the NGOs had "not been made public."