The article was included in draft legislation to reform immigration policy which is currently being debated in parliament.
Late on Tuesday night, the Alternate Interior Minister, Leonidas Grigorakos, submitted an amendment to the draft law which would see immigrants face deportation in the event that they made allegations of abuse by organs of the state which were then established to be falsehoods by a ‘preliminary investigation’.
Official opposition party SYRIZA, as well as members of PASOK – a partner in the coalition government – condemned the amendment and as a result Mr Grigorakos withdrew the controversial article acknowledging that the opposition to it was based on substantive arguments. However only a few hours later the Interior Minister,Yiannis Michelakis, resubmitted the article provoking furious reactions from the opposition, and indicating disarray and a possible rift in the coalition government between New Democracy and PASOK over the issue.
SYRIZA parliamentary spokesperson Panagiotis Lafazanis said that the Minister had ‘negated and disappeared’ the Alternate Minister.
Mr Michelakis, on reintroducing the measure, claimed that it was necessary to protect forces such as the Coast Guard and the police from immigrants making baseless allegations of abuse.
“The measure is based on the self-evident obligation of every organised state to protect its organs as they carry out their duties. Our Coast Guard is a characteristic example…Who would want them to be prey to baseless, scurrilous and targeted accusations made against them from people who traffic unfortunate souls in our country? You know well that they advise them on arriving in our country to accuse members of the Coast Guard of abuse and attempts to drown them,” Mr Michelakis said. “I realize that some people have a problem with uniforms,” he said in a barb directed at the left.
Mr Michelakis’s move was supported by New Democracy parliamentary group leader Makis Voridis (who used to be a member of the far-right party LAOS before joining New Democracy) and who accused SYRIZA of protecting people traffickers.
SYRIZA claimed that the measure was racist and was designed to help cover-up incidents of abuse and violence by the authorities against irregular immigrants attempting to enter Greece by often risky means. Such an incident allegedly occurred recently near Farmakonisi when 12 immigrants, eight of whom were children drowned when their boat capsized. Survivors of the tragedy claimed that the boat capsized during an illegal push back operation by the Coast Guard attempting to return the immigrants to Turkey. The Greek authorities deny the allegations while the United Nations Refugee Agency as well as the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe have called for an investigation into the incident.
“It is an unprecedented provision to intimidate the victims who accuse an Organ of the state of a racist crime. Who are you trying to protect? Certainly not a state based on justice,” said SYRIZA MP Vasiliki Katrivanou. SYRIZA parliamentary spokesperson also angrily denounced the measure saying, “The racists are legislating. Why don’t you hang them all instead?”
In the latest twist, Mr Grigorakis withdrew the article – again – on Thursday afternoon. He said that the reason was the controversy created by the measure had given the wrong impression. “We want to assure people that we do not have any desire to dissuade allegations of racist violence and for that we are withdrawing it,” he said.