Greece is pressing ahead with new legislation tabled in parliament by the migration ministry that will seek to accelerate deportations of migrants. In view of recent developments in Afghanistan, Europe is expecting a new wave of migration.
Under the proposed legislation, grace periods are to be slashed, while police will be granted additional powers in some procedures that are currently under the authority of the migration and asylum authorities. The draft law was presented to the Greek parliament on Friday (August 27) by Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis.
Specifically, under one of the key provisions, the police will be able to order the deportation of migrants caught crossing into Greece through irregular channels and without proper papers if they do not apply for asylum or if their application for protection is rejected.
Additionally, undocumented migrants may also be held in custody prior to deportation if they are considered a flight risk or a threat to public order.
Mitarakis and other Greek government officials have been at pains to hammer home their hardline approach on migration, and the message that Greece is focusing on bolstering defenses at its borders in view of developments in Afghanistan.
"Greece will not accept, as in the period 2015-19, to be the gateway to Europe for illegal immigration flows, in violation of Article 31 of the Geneva Convention," said Mitarakis, addressing the parliament.
During his speech, Mitarakis pointed out that despite the significant challenges that Greece is called to face, "we have regained control of immigration and consequently the international credibility of our country."
Migration flows down 86% over the past year, minister says
Mitarakis added: "Migration flows have decreased by 86% in the last twelve months and, in fact, by 95% on the islands. In the last seven months, the number of people living on the islands has decreased by 77% and by 45% on the mainland."
Regarding the new bill, Mitarakis clarified that with the amendment of provisions of the law on deportations and the law on returns, issues and procedures of deportation and return of third country nationals, who reside in the country without authorization will be properly regulated.
"The purpose of these regulations is the resolution of issues arising in the application of the provisions on expulsion and return and, as far as possible, the limitation of the abuse of rights by third-country nationals to be expelled or returned," he said.
"The aim is to clearly separate the administrative deportation procedures that apply to the cases of foreigners generally arrested for illegally crossing the country's land or sea borders, from the return procedures that apply in all other cases."
New grace periods
The new legislation reduces the grace period for voluntary deportations from 30 days to between a week and 25 days, while also making it more difficult for migrants to challenge a deportation order by applying a stricter definition to what can be regarded as "humanitarian grounds", and reducing the period in which they can take legal action against such a decision to 30 days after it is issued.
Younger migrants and unaccompanied minors who are not granted asylum but cannot be deported will be granted full health care and social security coverage.
The legislation also provides for measures to regulate more strictly the activities of NGOs, civil society bodies and volunteer groups in areas that overlap with the jurisdiction of Greece's coast guard and port authorities, with the penalties for violations of the new operational framework also being made stricter.
Greece's border with Turkey 'impregnable'
Over the weekend, Greece's head of the country's Armed Forces claimed that Greece's northeastern border with Turkey is "impregnable," following a visit to the Evros region along with Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos.
Such comments, and the New Democracy government's policies and stance on migration, have drawn widespread criticism from opposition party SYRIZA and media observers. The focus of that criticism has been for their perceived insensitivity by communicating measures for tightening border controls and preventing refugees and migrants entering Greece while a humanitarian crisis begins to unfold following the fall of Kabul with Taliban forces taking control in Afghanistan.
Mitarakis has previously hit back at such claims, however, saying: "SYRIZA does not stop reminding us of its past, with painful results in all areas. The effects on immigration were devastating for our islands and the country in general."