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NGOs: New EU refugee policy 'contradicts' international law

Image of migrants being rescued while travelling on the Mediterranean sea on 7 May 2017 [Iker Pastor/Anadolu Agency]
Migrants being rescued while travelling on the Mediterranean sea [Iker Pastor/Anadolu Agency]

A new policy that limits the chances of asylum seekers in Europe exercising their right to appeal has been criticised by major NGOs around the world.

Earlier this month the Greek government started giving cash incentives for rejected asylum seekers on the islands to forgo their legal rights to appeal their cases.

Some €1,000 ($1,090) and free plane tickets home have been made available as part of a largely EU-financed reintegration package. The money is part of the pre-existing programme but the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy announced that funds would be denied to people who appeal their case.

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In their statement the NGOs, which include Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Save the Children and others, raised concerns over the new policy saying that it has "both a coercive effect on an asylum seeker's decision to appeal a negative decision, thereby jeopardising the right to a fair asylum process as provided by EU law, and also on their decision to return to their country of origin."

The joint statement also stated that the policy "presents a high risk of refoulement, given that it can result in asylum seekers with strong asylum claims, who may nevertheless have received a negative first instance decision, to drop their right to appeal."

The NGOs have urged the Greek government to immediately reverse the policy, saying that the change in policy is a "direct contradiction" to rights afforded to asylum seekers under Greek, EU and International Human Rights law.

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This new policy, they said, "is the latest in a series of steps being taken to make access to asylum in Europe more difficult." After mentioning Europe's long history and commitment to protecting and upholding human rights they added:

Everyone applying for asylum should be able to exercise their right to an appeal without foregoing the opportunity to seek AVRR (Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration) at any point during and after the asylum process.

"Any person deciding to return home with the assistance of IOM (International Organisation for Migration) should be able to do so free of duress and in full respect of their basic human rights."

They stressed that "any policy suggesting otherwise threatens to not only jeopardise the integrity of the AVRR programme, but also the asylum procedure in Greece and in turn, the right to asylum in Europe."

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