Greece culls migrant support groups in ‘transparency’ overhaul

Members of an NGO share handmade protective face masks to migrants and refugees in Lesbos on March 28, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2020

Greece culls migrant support groups in ‘transparency’ overhaul

  • Greece’s conservative government says that new NGO registration rules are needed
  • Some locals claim that NGOs have a vested interest in seeing the migration crisis drag on

ATHENS: Dozens of groups helping asylum seekers in Greece risk being edged out in a government move to tighten what it calls “opaque” rules overseeing charities, sparking concern that crucial support will be cut.
Critics warn that the new registration regulations will downgrade services to thousands of vulnerable and traumatized people that were, in many cases, already barely adequate.
“We seek as much transparency as possible in the operation of NGOs, and of people working for, or cooperating, with them,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said in April.
Greece’s conservative government, which was voted in nearly a year ago and whose policy is to make the country a “less attractive” destination to migrants, says that new NGO registration rules are needed because the groups have run projects in the last four years “in their own way” under an “opaque” framework.
But Minos Mouzourakis, legal officer for Refugee Support Aegean, is worried that the change could hamper the independent oversight role often played by NGOs.
It is often support groups that highlight alleged abuses by coast guards or police and take legal action against the Greek state on behalf of asylum seekers, he noted.
“The ministry evaluates independent organizations that often criticize it... it should not have such (powers) ... it’s a question of impartiality,” he said.
Mitarachi has complained that out of $1.7 billion in EU support funds for Greek migration projects between 2015 and 2019, the Greek state managed just 1.9 percent.
“Do you want to hand over the keys to NGOs? I don’t want that,” he told parliament this month.
The new registration process includes budget scrutiny and criminal background checks for workers and volunteers.
Each group’s field performance in the last two years is also probed.
“This essentially helps NGOs themselves to know who is working for them,” the ministry’s asylum secretary Manos Logothetis said.
“Shouldn’t they know if, for instance, there is a pedophile working with minors?” he said.
On Wednesday, 22 out of 40 groups active in Greek camps were eliminated from a first approval phase.
Elected officials acknowledge that support groups were key at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, especially after other EU states shut their borders in 2016 and tens of thousands of asylum seekers were trapped in Greek camps.
More than a million migrants and refugees arrived in Greece in 2015 and 2016, according to the UN refugee agency. There are now around 120,000 in the country.
Yiorgos Kaminis, Athens mayor in 2011-2019, has noted that “without (NGO) contribution, the incompetent Greek state would have been overwhelmed.”
But, insiders have noted, there was also significant overlap.
“Early on, you might have had five different groups running education programs,” one organization member said.
According to an internal document seen by AFP, earlier this year there were more than 20 support groups in the largest Greek camp of Moria on Lesbos island.
Beyond medical and legal assistance, the help offered included laundry services, self-defense and yoga, classes in Greek, English, music and IT, and pregnancy health care.
One group handled plumbing for the heavily overcrowded camp of more than 16,000 people.
It was not immediately clear how many of these organizations have been allowed to stay on.
“The Greek government leads the refugee response, and the expertise and strengths of civil society and NGOs is still crucial,” the UN refugee agency’s spokesman in Greece Boris Cheshirkov said in a statement.
In frontline Greek areas bearing the brunt of migration management, some locals claim that NGOs have a vested interest in seeing the migration crisis drag on.
In March, refugee support groups on Lesbos were targeted in the worst surge of violence since mass arrivals began in 2015.
Angry mobs attacked cars with NGO markings after a new wave of migration encouraged by Turkey saw hundreds of asylum seekers arrive on Lesbos.
“We can understand that the new government wants to establish a register for NGOs, if this is to gain greater control over who is actually working with these vulnerable people,” said Caroline Hervik, of Reaching, a small volunteer group of mainly Norwegian students working on the island of Chios.
But because the registration process is “complex” and requires a Greek representative, Reaching’s work is currently on hold, she said.


Pakistan PM Khan slams ‘oppressor’ India on Kashmir anniversary

Updated 29 min 52 sec ago

Pakistan PM Khan slams ‘oppressor’ India on Kashmir anniversary

  • Solidarity marches were held in all major Pakistani cities to mark the anniversary of New Delhi stripping Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status
  • Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan territory, has been split since 1947 between India and Pakistan, both of which claim it in full and have fought wars over it

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan branded India an “oppressor and aggressor” on Wednesday, a year after New Delhi imposed direct rule on Indian-administered Kashmir.
Solidarity marches were held in all major Pakistani cities to mark the anniversary of New Delhi stripping Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, a move that outraged Islamabad.
Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan territory, has been split since 1947 between India and Pakistan, both of which claim it in full and have fought wars over it.
“India stands exposed before the world, yet again, as an oppressor and aggressor,” Khan said in a statement.
“Its so-called secular and democratic credentials stand fully discredited,” he added, calling India’s action last year a “crime against humanity.”
Khan led a march through Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, before addressing the region’s legislative assembly.
Across the city, more than 2,000 people turned out at a series of anti-India protests.
“We ask the world to give Kashmiris their right of self-determination, otherwise we will cross the Line of Control and help our brothers on the other side with arms,,” Arslan Ahmad, a refugee who fled Indian-administered Kashmir, told AFP.
“Half of my family is under siege in Indian-occupied Kashmir, my mother is dying to meet her sister, this dispute has left our generations torn apart,” 31-year old Usman Mir added.
Police were enforcing tight restrictions in Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday, where religious and political groups had called on residents to observe a “black day.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government had promised the move would bring peace and prosperity to Indian Kashmir after three decades of violence sparked by an anti-India uprising.
Pakistan, however, has alleged it is a violation of the rights of Kashmiri people.
Khan accused India of trying to turn Kashmir’s Muslim majority into a minority by ending restrictions on outsiders buying up property “in blatant violation of... UN Security Council Resolutions and international laws.”
The change in rules has sparked fears that the Modi government is pursuing an Israel-style “settler” project.
A referendum in Kashmir mandated by a UN resolution in 1948 has never taken place.
“India has learned from Israel how to change the demography (of Kashmir),” President Arif Alvi told a rally in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, which observed a one-minute silence.
Hundreds of billboards and banners displayed graphic images purportedly of human rights violations by Indian authorities in Kashmir.
On Tuesday, Pakistan released a new official map showing all of Kashmir as its territory.
The Pakistan military, meanwhile, said Indian troops had fired a shell across the de-facto border, killing a young woman and wounding six other people.
Such exchanges are common along the Kashmir demarcation line, with shells blasted in both directions.