Saturday

7th Dec 2019

Greece fined for violating asylum seekers' rights

  • Graffiti in Athens: Greece and Italy violated the fundamental rights of asylum seekers, says the Strasbourg-court (Photo: kari_1981)

Asylum seekers in Italy and Greece are a step closer of having their rights vindicated following a verdict on Tuesday (21 October) at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

While the judgment is not final, the decision signals an important development in a case that stems back to 2009 when Italy is said to have intercepted 32 Afghan nationals, two Sudanese nationals and one Eritrean national at its border and immediately sent them back to Greece.

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Italian border police handed most of them over to ferry captains at ports in the Adriatic who then shipped them to Greece, where they had initially landed.

Judges in Strasbourg say the Italian operation was an “indiscriminate collective expulsion” since Greece was in no position to guarantee a proper asylum application and assessment.

Many of those who ended up in Greek hands feared they would be deported back to their home countries where they could potentially face torture or even death.

Greece at the time was in political and social turmoil, with some 146,337 irregular migrants having entered in 2008 alone.

The UN agency for refugees had also documented cases of group arrests by the Greek police and lack of access to legal or other assistance to those placed in detention centres.

Judges say Italy failed to respect the EU’s Dublin regulation, which makes point of entry countries responsible for asylum applicants, even though the asylum seekers had first landed in Greece.

But the Court pointed out that Italy’s interpretation of the regulation must be applied in a manner compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“No form of collective and indiscriminate returns could be justified by reference to that system [Dublin],” note the judges.

Given the lack of access to the asylum procedures, Greece was found guilty for violating the asylum seekers “right to an effective remedy”.

The Afghans, for instance, were handed brochures about their rights written in Arabic - a language they do not understand.

They were also living in make shift camps in Greece in what the Strasbourg-court judges described as a “state of precariousness and utter destitution”.

Greece was reprimanded for inhuman treatment given the real risk of deportation of the asylum seekers to their respective home countries.

Ten had been given deportation orders and were placed in administrative detention before being released and given 30 days to leave Greece.

The Court has ordered Greece to pay a total of €5,000 to the four Afghan nationals who filed the case.

Italy did not have to pay anything because the refugees missed the deadline to ask for compensation.

Both Greece and Italy have three months to request for the case to be heard at the grand chamber.

“After three months the judgment is final if there is no request,” said a contact at the Court.

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