On 21 January 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) published a decision in the case of Ms. H.A through which it confirmed a settlement between the parties. Ethiopian national Ms. H.A. was 6 months pregnant when she arrived to the (Greek) island of Samos where she planned to apply for asylum. Despite her pregnancy, authorities neglected to provide her further material assistance, forcing her to reside in a makeshift shelter in the Samos „hotspot“ for nearly three months. The Greek government agreed to compensate her for any damages that she suffered as a result of the inhumane and degrading living conditions in the camp. However, these conditions have yet to cease, and thousands of people must still endure similar circumstances.
Upon her arrival on Samos in September 2019, Ms. H.A. had to live in a makeshift shelter in the forest (the so-called “jungle”) surrounding the camp. Her tent was shared between nine people and did not provide effective protection from cold and rain nor from rats and snakes. At the time, more than 6,200 asylum seekers were living in the reception facility on Samos, which is designed to host only 650 persons. No adequate sanitary facilities existed, and asylum seekers had to queue for several hours to receive food of very poor quality.
On 18 November 2019, Refugee Law Clinic Berlin e.V. (RLC Berlin) filed a request for an interim measure under Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court on behalf of Ms. H.A. The following day, the ECHR ordered the Greek government to guarantee to H.A. living conditions that were appropriate to her state of health. Her living situation eventually improved in late December 2019.
In the subsequent legal proceedings before the ECHR, Ms. H.A. alleged that Greece had violated the prohibition of inhumane and degrading treatment under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and that the Government’s failure to comply with the interim measure constituted a violation of Article 34 of the Convention. The Greek government agreed to pay a sum of €5,000 to cover any pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages to Ms. H.A.
While the settlement prevented a decision on the merits in this case, the Court will have the chance to address the living conditions of asylum seekers in the Samos camp in various other cases that are currently pending. These include: N.E. and others v. Greece (App. No. 8716/20), which concerns the living conditions of several pregnant women on Samos; A.N. Samos, 29.01.2021 and others v. Greece (App. No. 13892/20) which concerns the situation of unaccompanied minors in the camp on Samos; and R.A. and others v. Greece (App. No. 11216/20), which concerns the living conditions of asylum seekers with severe diseases and their access to medical care.
Philipp Schönberger, member of RLC Berlin, explains, ‘We are glad that Ms. H.A. will receive compensation that acknowledges the inhumane treatment she suffered. However, her case is not an isolated one. On Samos alone, the ECHR has granted interim measures in more than 30 cases of pregnant women who were left without any support in those degrading circumstances.’ He concludes, ‘This European policy of deterrence and encampment is resulting in the systematic violations of asylum seekers’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Nobody should be forced to live in the appalling conditions that we continue to observe in the camps on Samos, Lesvos, Chios, Kos and Leros. It is time for Greece and the EU to start taking human rights and human dignity of asylum seekers seriously.’
Refugee Law Clinic Berlin e.V is one of the civili society organisations taking part of the project New Neighbours. In August 2020 they launched its #AccessToJustice-Campaign in order to promote the legal tool IHaveRights.eu. Daily social media content on RLC Berlin channels highlighted the importance of access to justice for asylum seekers.