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Press Release: New Complaint at the European Court of Human Rights
Press Release: New Complaint at the European Court of Human Rights- A.N. v. Greece
A complaint has been filed by Flip Schüller, Itamar Mann, Niamh Keady-Tabbal and Lisa-Marie Komp with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of A.N., an asylum seeker who was the victim of a violent maritime expulsion by Greek officials near the island of Samos on 13 May 2020. The submission raises violations of Article 2 (Right to life), Article 3 (Prohibition of torture) and Article 13 (Right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. It challenges Greece’s now widespread policy of “pushbacks” in the Aegean Sea, and the pattern of sending asylum seekers adrift in non-navigable rafts, which we argue amounts to torture.
The applicant, who fled persecution in his home country, was travelling to Greece on a rubber dinghy, carrying around 30 people, to apply for international protection. Before reaching the island of Samos, the Greek Coast Guard violently intercepted the dinghy then took the applicant and other asylum seekers onto a Coast Guard ship. Onboard, the Greek personnel beat them and confiscated their phones, money, and other personal belongings. This was all done in close proximity to a German Frontex vessel, which may have turned a blind eye to the violations.
The applicant, and the other asylum seekers he was travelling with, were forced into two inflatable life rafts, repurposed for expulsion. Both of the rafts, which are rescue equipment only to be deployed in emergency situations, without engines and non-navigable, were damaged. Though the rafts quickly took on water, the Hellenic Coast Guard towed the rafts towards Turkish waters before cutting the rope and leaving them adrift at sea. Eventually, members of the Turkish Coast Guard rescued the applicant and other asylum seekers and returned them to Turkey. Throughout these events, the applicant and the other asylum seekers involved were barred from applying for international protection, despite attempts the applicant made to explain that he had suffered from persecution
Not only did the applicant’s treatment constitute an illegal pushback, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement, the pushback practice itself, now widespread on the Aegean, amounts to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court has, in the past, recognised that ill-treatment by public officials during the deportation process may amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. However, the applicant’s complaint that the treatment amounts to torture, is unprecedented.
The significance of the present case extends beyond the experience of the individual applicant, who was subject to severe mental and physical suffering as a result of the deliberate actions of Greek officials. “The violence the applicant suffered at the hands of Greek officials is part of a systematic practice of maritime pushbacks that we have observed since March, and the result of the underlying deterrence policy pursued by Greece and the EU”, said Niamh Keady-Tabbal, a member of A.N.’s legal team.
Two of the applicant’s representatives, Keady-Tabbal and Itamar Mann, documented the practice in May, and exposed it in an investigation published in Just Security. As these pushbacks have continued, a number of media outlets, including The New York Times and Der Spiegel, have documented the violent and life-threatening pushback of well over a thousand asylum seekers using this method. The United Nations have urged Greece to “refrain from such practices” and “seriously investigate these reports.” They have, however, continued with impunity. “As the Greek legal system is not available for the applicant, the appropriate and indeed indispensable forum for accountability is the European Court of Human Rights,” said Mann.
“It is striking that the EU with all its institutions turns a blind eye to the lack of access to territory and thus also to rule of law, particularly when it comes to sea push backs. Yet I am confident that this case will raise awareness both at international level and hopefully in Greece as it needs to be addressed”, said Flip Schüller, Legal Representative.