As of September 30, the UNHCR put the overall tally of refugees and migrants in Greece at 96,000, a more than 53-percent increase since August 2018.

Several Greek islands are weathering a sharp uptick in refugee arrivals as the country’s parliament weighs a controversial new asylum law prompting criticism from rights groups and watchdogs.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, the Greek government recorded 795 arrivals of refugees and migrants to the country, according to the Ministry of Citizen Protection’s tally.

Early on Tuesday the Greek coast guard reported three operations in which it intercepted a total of 116 refugees and migrants crossing the Aegean Sea, the Hellenic Coast Guard said in a statement.

The coast guard intercepted a boat carrying 27 people near the northeastern port city of Alexandroupolis, another boat with 42 people not far from the Aegean Island Farmakonissi, and a third vessel with 47 individuals near Samos Island.

The refugees and migrants were transferred to nearby ports, the Hellenic Coast Guard statement added.

Recent months have witnessed a growing number of refugee boats reaching Greece, where more than 42,000 people have arrived by sea thus far this year, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

In addition to sea arrivals, at least 11,452 refugees and migrants have reached Greece by land, most of whom cross the country’s northeastern border with Turkey.

As of September 30, the UNHCR put the overall tally of refugees and migrants in Greece at 96,000, a more than 53-percent increase since August 2018.

The spike in arrivals comes at a time when the Greek parliament is considering a controversial draft bill that rights groups and aid organisations worry would strip many protections allotted to asylum seekers in the Mediterranean country.

Detaining asylum seekers

Introduced into the parliament on October 21, the 237-page bill includes a host of procedural changes, among them rules that would permit the government to detain asylum seekers for lengthier periods and a more restrictive definition of what constitutes a family.

Further, the bill would subject refugees and migrants to lengthier waits in their ability to obtain work in the country and does away with certain protections currently granted to vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied children.

“Of course, we are worried,” Yonous Muhammadi, president of the Greek Forum of Refugees, told TRT World. “The provisions on detention, even for very vulnerable people, and classifying people according to their ethnicity, are very worrying for us."

He added: “This will push more people to be undocumented by not allowing them to ask for asylum," he added, adding that the bill could abolish effectively abolish the right for appeal on negative asylum requests.

In a statement published on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch researcher Eva Cosse described the bill as “a naked attempt to block access to protection and increase deportations in the face of the recent increase in arrivals”.

The HRW statement called on the Greek government to “ensure a fair and efficient asylum procedure”.

Late on Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, speaking at a conference in the capital, defended the government’s migration policy, saying that Greece cannot “carry the problems of three continents on its shoulders”.

He said the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece is “disproportionate” to the country’s size.

In several refugee camps on the Greek island and a handful of Aegean Islands, humanitarian conditions have been consistently worsening in recent months, rights groups and observers say.

On Samos, Greek authorities evacuated a refugee camp when clashes erupted and a fire broke out, putting the nearly 6,000 residents at risk.

At least three people were injured with stab wounds, local media reported.

Rights groups noted at the time that around half of the residents in Vathy camp are women and children.

Late last month, Greek officials said at least one person died during a fire that broke out at an overcrowded refugee camp on the island of Lesbos.

After the deadly fire broke out at Moria – a camp currently housing upwards of 12,000 refugees and migrants, despite having an official capacity for an estimated 3,000 people – many residents rallied against what they view as their detention in the camp.

Greek police forces responded by firing tear gas and seeking to quell the demonstration.

Last week the UNHCR reported that a Syrian child died when a Greek Coast Guard ship collided into a flimsy dinghy carrying dozens of migrants and refugees near Kos Island.

In July, the right-wing New Democracy power won snap elections, ousting the left-wing Syriza party.

Since coming to power, New Democracy has vowed to bulk up external border security operations and ramp up deportations, promising to send more than 10,000 people back to Turkey by the end of next year.

One of the early steps taken by the New Democracy government included transferring the duties of the Ministry of Migration Policy to the Ministry for Citizen Protection.

In a recent interview on Greece’s Alpha TV, Syriza spokesperson Alexis Haritsis criticised the newly-elected governing party’s “avoiding the transfer of vulnerable groups from the islands to the mainland in July and August” for fear of backlash.

“Unfortunately, we are in a state of disrepair,” he said of the migration crisis.

Source: TRT World