European Court of Human Rights turns a blind eye on migrants’ life endangerment in Chios

Press release of the Gisti - 28 June 2016

From 22 to 30 May, 2015, the GISTI organised an exploratory mission in the Greek islands of Kios and Lesbos. Three lawyers went there with the primary aim of assessing the migrants’ needs of legal assistance and the possibilities of taking legal action. After a long information collection work, the Gisti decided to initiate a request for emergency measures to the European Court of Human Rights. The appeal was logded on June 16th by 51 Syrian, Afghan, and Iraqi nationals who are forcibly maintained in the Aegean island of Kios, Greece on Chios island, in a situation of extreme distress. The European Court of Human Rights rejected this request for emergency measures.The legal bases of this request were mainly based on the non-compliance with Articles 3 and 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The objective is to denounce all inhuman or degrading treatments (lack of access to health care, to meals, to accommodation...) as well as the impossibility to apply for asylum within the legal deadlines, especially since some Greek islands have been turned into hotspots. Following the rejection decision from the European Court of Human Rights, the GISTI published a press release:

European Court of Human Rights turns a blind eye on migrants’ life endangerment in Chios

Last weekend, the European court for Human Rights rejected a request for emergency measures sought on June 16th by 51 Syrian, Afhani, Iraki nationals (amongst which many minors) who are forcibly maintained on Chios island, Greece, in a desperate situation. This island, like many others in the Aegean sea, has become an open air prison. The victims, lead by a GISTI lawyer, a French NGO for the defence of migrants, had asked the court to compel Greek authorities to put an end to the violations of their right to life and to the inhuman and degrading treatment they have been enduring in Chios since an immigration deal was concluded between Turkey and the EU on march 20th –more than three months now- and which puts their children’s’ and their own lives at risk.

Although they all applied for asylum, none of those 51 victims enjoyed any of the fundamental civil rights theoretically guaranteed by Greek and European law. They received no legal assistance at all. Most claimants ignored the grounds for this « house arrests » on an island, which turns every day more into an Alcatraz, and cannot understand why they are forced to live in such appalling and degrading material conditions. They are granted neither safe nor decent housing, and lack basic access to health: medical assistance is grossly insufficient compare to the number of civilians in the camps who would need specialised care or hospital recovery. (only some prescriptions are given but no drugs). In one of the island’s three “camps”, the authorities do not even provide for food.

In their claim before the ECHR, the victims vastly documented the authorities’ failure to provide sufficient and adapted food, the degrading, humiliating, and unsafe living conditions (precarious tents, snakes, heat, promiscuity, etc), the practical impossibility to access due medical help, and the lack of care for those particularly at risk, such as pregnant women, young children, unaccompanied minors. They also pointed at the arbitrariness of their forced stay on the island, and the total lack of legal security and foreseeability of the procedures, that kill any hope and make them lose their minds, thus creating a serious general suicidal peril.

What the victims do know, is their fear of deportation to Turkey, since all migrants held on the island risk being pushed back, as Greek national law and the EU-Turkey agreement now consider Erdogan’s regime « safe » for asylum seekers, despite independent NGOs and international institutions outcries.

Since March 20, the EU, via its agencies operating in the Greek “hotpsots” (EASO, Interpol, Frontex), has been acting as a daily accomplice of those multiple infringements of international law, and of the provisions of its own fundamental charter for rights and of the European convention for human rights.

Did the mass scale of this human rights violation chill the Court? Did some “floodgates argument” influence its refusal to order emergency redress? By refusing to intervene immediately, the European court for human rights reinforces EU member states impunity; it implicitly endorses the terrible human rights consequences of Europe’s dehumanised migration and asylum policies. Those opted for “hotspots” approach and for externalisation agreements, to keep as many away from tis shores, but leaves the dirty job on Greece and Turkey, a third country, thus blurring the human responsibility to welcome migrants and refugees that should rest on all member states. With this decision, the Court will also let explosive situations flourish, and maintains many people lives at risk. Chios, like all the “hotspots”, is a human rights time bomb.

The claimants, with GISTI alongside, will not be defeated by the Court’s refusal to admit how urgent it is to put an end to the grave abuses happening in Chios. They will carry on with their claims before international jurisdictions, to have those human rights violations recognised and condemned as such.

The 28th of June 2016

The request is available on the GISTI website.