For the first time, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned the living conditions faced by an asylum seeker in a Greek hotspot as inhumane and degrading treatment. It found a violation of Article 3 of the Convention and awarded the applicant 5000 Euro in damages. Meanwhile, the continuing externalisation of Europe’s migration policies is leading to ever more human rights violations.
On 4 April 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) published its judgement in the application of A.D. v. Greece (55363/19). The Court unanimously found that Greece had violated the prohibition of torture, inhumane and degrading treatment (Article 3 of the Convention) by forcing the applicant to live in unbearable conditions in the “hotspot” on Samos and awarded her a compensation of 5000 Euro. The applicant arrived on Samos in August 2019 and was immediately placed under geographic restriction to the island. Despite being six months pregnant, she was not provided with housing, but left without any support to live in makeshift shelter outside the overcrowded reception facility. She had to stay in a tent until she went into labour. Only after giving birth and following an interim measure order from the Court, the applicant was finally able to leave the island.
It is the first time that the Court has qualified the living conditions in the Greek “hotspots” as inhumane and degrading treatment. However, it took the Court three years to confirm the obvious, given the overwhelming evidence and reports about the situation, which the Commissioner for Human Rights had called “a struggle for survival” in 2019. It delivers late justice to the applicant by denouncing European border policies as what they are: inhumane.
“The unbearable conditions were the direct result of the so-called EU-Turkey-Deal. For years, the EU has enforced this deal through its “hotspot” approach and supported the illegal and inhumane policies of the Greek State. In doing so, it sacrificed Europe’s core values and was complicit in serious human rights violations, such as the ones documented in this case”, comments the applicant’s representative Yiota Massouridou from Athens. “Since 2016, the European Union has been pushing hard to externalise its migration policies by moving asylum seekers out of public sight into remote, inaccessible spaces at its borders and beyond, to evade its human rights obligations.”
Instead of closing down these inhumane facilities, the EU spent 276 millions euros to build Closed Controlled Access Centres (CCAC) on the islands. It was opened in September 2021 and has been criticised by human rights defenders for being sites of unlawful detention as well as other human rights abuses. Adequate access to medical treatment is denied even in emergencies, as documented by a recent interim measure decision from the Court.
“Far from being a humane approach to people seeking safety, the CCAC is a highly securitised and degrading environment, where people on the move are routinely de facto detained, cut off from wider society and denied access to essential services”, says Ella Dodd, Legal Coordinator at I Have Rights on Samos. “The accommodation of people on the move in such prison-like structures and the systematic practice of pushbacks is one of the most pressing and grave human rights issues of our time”.
The judgement in A.D. v. Greece is the first in a series of cases currently pending at the Court that denounce the treatment of asylum seekers in Greek “hotspots” (e.g. D.F. and others v. Greece, Appl. No. 65267/19). The case was supported by Refugee Law Clinic Berlin (Germany), I Have Rights (Samos) and PRO ASYL Foundation.