As Greece grapples with a rising number of refugees and migrants arriving at its shores, the country's conservative government is pushing for tougher asylum legislation.
In the early hours of Friday, the Greek parliament voted in favor of a controversial bill introducing sweeping changes to the national asylum system, including cutting some options for appeal and facilitating the deportation of failed asylum seekers. The governing New Democracy party and the Socialist “Movement of Change” party backed the new law.
Proponents say the legislation will streamline and shorten the asylum process, but international organizations — including the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) — warn that it will reduce safeguards for people seeking international protection.
Michalis Chrysochoidis, the minister for citizen protection, told POLITICO the new rules are "simply a precise adoption and implementation of the European [asylum] directive and the Union's asylum legislation."
He added: "It aims to achieve speeding up asylum procedures, respect by asylum seekers of the country's laws and the rules set by the authorities, respect of their human rights and cooperation between them and the Greek authorities.”
Critics, however, say the procedural changes would impede access to asylum and compromise the right of appeal.
Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR's representative in Greece, said ahead of the passage of the bill that it “introduces stringent procedural requirements and formalities which an asylum seeker cannot reasonably be expected to fulfill."
He warned the new legislation "may not be in compliance with" European law, adding that the reform introduces unreasonable obstacles to receiving international protection.
“It puts an excessive burden on asylum seekers and focuses on punitive measures,” Leclerc said. “For instance, if [applicants] do not observe certain procedural formalities, their asylum claim will be considered implicitly withdrawn and rejected, without being examined on substance."