Greece and Cyprus: from cradles of democracy to criminalisation of solidarity

Attacks on NGOs working on migration and asylum have worsened in both Greece and Cyprus

In Greece, between February and September 2020, a series of amendments and two ministerial decisions, related to requirements for the registration and certification of NGOs in the areas of asylum, migration and social inclusion, were passed. In a blatant violation of both the right to freedom of association and personal data protection rules, NGO staff working with migrants and refugees are now compelled to submit their CVs and a copy of their criminal record to the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum to access refugee camps. These decisions were condemned by the Council of Europe’s Expert Council who found that the requirements were “incompatible with freedom of association”.

In March 2020, several organisations denounced these attacks and the stigmatisation of solidarity. In July 2020, a COVID-19 centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières on Lesvos was forced to close following the imposition of fines related to urban planning regulations. In September 2020, the Greek government prepared a case against 33 NGO employees which included offences of “forming and joining a criminal organisation, espionage and violation of state secrets”.   

This criminalisation of solidarity goes hand in hand with a tightening of criminalisation against migrants and refugees and the systematisation of illegal pushbacks practices at sea and land borders. Under the pretext of COVID-19, the Greek government has arbitrarily imposed longer and stricter lockdown periods for migrants and refugees held in camps or reception centres. This decision has further restricted asylum-seekers and migrants’ rightspersonal liberty and freedom of movement while violating their children’s right to education.  

 In Cyprus, the situation is also alarming. The government has repeatedly criminalised and defamed local civil society actors. The Minister of Interior has prevented civil society organisations from conducting their work, in some cases he has even decided to shut them down. On 14 December 2020, his Ministry published a list of NGOs to be removed from the Register of Associations and Foundations for not complying with formality requirements. Among them was EuroMed Rights’ member KISA which was accused of not holding a general assembly and of not submitting audited accounts. KISA also faces accusations of cooperating with terrorist religious organisations collaborating with Turkey, of corruption and money laundering, and of contributing to the “demographic and cultural identity changes of Cyprus by Turkey”. KISA’s access to the Pournara migrant detention centre was suspended. KISA’s appeal of this deregistration decision will be reviewed on 3 March 2021 by an administrative court. 

 Criminalising organisations for carrying out the fundamental aid and legal support that Member States themselves do not provide to migrants and refugees leave hundreds of people without any crucial support nor protection in terms of access to asylum, legal safeguards and basic needs.