European Court of Human Rights to decide whether living conditions in Greek ‘hotspots’ constituted inhumane and degrading treatment for asylum seekers with serious medical conditions
On 30 September 2021, eight applicants submitted their written observations on a set of cases currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights. In A.R. v. Greece and 7 other applications (No. 59841/19 et al.), the Court had grouped together a total of eight applications, all concerning the living conditions of asylum seekers with severe health problems in the Reception and Identification Centres (R.I.C., commonly referred to as “hotspots”) on the Greek islands of Kos, Lesvos, Samos and Chios. The cases had been filed by the NGOs METAdrasi, Refugee Support Aegean, HIAS, Equal Rights Beyond Borders and Refugee Law Clinic Berlin. All applicants claim that the inadequate and poor living conditions combined with the lack of access to the necessary medical care constitute a violation of the prohibition of inhumane and degrading treatment under Article 3 of the Convention.
Two cases dealing with the situation in the Samos “hotspot” are represented by the lawyers Jenny Fleischer (Berlin) and Yiota Masouridou (Athens) in cooperation with the Refugee Law Clinic Berlin. The proceedings are supported by PRO ASYL Support association and the Public International Law Pro Bono Project of the University College London.
The case of N.O. concerns a young woman diagnosed with uterine fibroids who was forced to live in the Samos hotspot from November 2019 until May 2020. Although the authorities were fully aware of her life-threatening condition, they left her without any meaningful material assistance in the informal “jungle” surroundings of the Samos R.I.C., where she lived in a makeshift shelter under poor living conditions without access to adequate sanitary facilities and with extremely limited access to food and health care. As early as November 2019, the General Hospital on Samos had emphasized the urgency and necessity of a surgical intervention by a specialized facility on the mainland. In the following months, the applicant was repeatedly hospitalized in the emergency care unit following periods of heavy bleeding. In March 2020, a medical team leader of MSF Samos affirmed that N.O.’s life would be at risk if the surgery was further delayed. On 12 March 2020, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Greek Government under Rule 39 to provide the applicant with the necessary surgery. The Court reiterated its order on 29 June 2021. To date, the applicant has not received the necessary surgical intervention. In the meantime, the fibroids have grown to a size that threatens the vital functioning of several organs. In addition, the fibroids pose a serious threat to the applicant’s fertility, and doctors involved in her care believe it to be highly likely that she will not be able to bear children.
The applicant W.A., a patient suffering from chronic Hepatitis B, lived in the Samos “hotspot” between August 2019 and July 2020. Authorities abandoned the applicant to a tent in the forest surrounding the R.I.C. on Samos with full knowledge of his medical condition, the severe symptoms impacting his health, and the risk that the applicant could infect other camp residents. He did not receive any meaningful support to mitigate these risk factors during this time. Authorities further blatantly ignored the General Hospital’s unequivocal recommendation to immediately transfer the applicant to the mainland for examination and treatment by a liver specialist, who was not available on the island of Samos. Instead, he remained subject to a geographical restriction that confined him to the island where none of the required medication was available and his ‘treatment’ consisted nothing but “paracetamol and honey”. In addition, the authorities identified the applicant as being at high risk for vulnerable concerning the Covid-19 virus and yet was left in the overcrowded facilities during the pandemic. It was only after an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights that the applicant was finally transferred to the mainland in July 2020.
"These cases vividly illustrate that Greek authorities do not shrink from exposing asylum seekers on their territory to the risk of irreparable physical harm and even death in order to implement Europe’s inhumane border policy of deterrence’, stated Kilian Schayani, a member of the team working on the case of W.A. Bianca Schulze-Rautenberg, responsible for the case of N.O. commented: ‘Denying seriously ill persons access to urgently needed treatment by legally forcing them to stay on an island where required health care is not available is incompatible with the fundamental idea of human dignity. We are convinced that the treatment of the applicants by the Greek authorities has reached the threshold of inhumane and degrading treatment and that the Court will find a violation of Article 3."
Refugee Law Clinic Berlin wishes to thank PRO ASYL Support association for their support and the UCL’s Pro Bono Project for their valuable legal contribution to the observations.