The European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) grants interim measures for 5th group of Syrian refugees stranded on an islet in the Evros river

Over the past three weeks, the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) has represented the Syrian refugees, including 44 children, before the ECtHR, by filing 5 applications for interim measures (R 39), requesting for the Syrian refugees to be granted humanitarian assistance and access to the asylum procedure.

The Court granted the requested interim measures for all cases and ordered the Greek government not to remove the refugees from the country’s territory and to provide them with food, water and proper medical care. The ECtHR also requested to be informed by the Greek government, amongst others, on whether the Syrian refugees have submitted an asylum application and whether they have access to the asylum procedure and to legal assistance.

Two of these five groups of refugees have been collected by the Greek authorities, two other groups of Syrian refugees complain they have been pushed back to Turkey. The last group has been on the islet since the day before yesterday and comprises of refugees who were previously pushed back to Turkey while their request for interim measures was pending before the ECtHR, alongside a new group of 12 Syrian refugees who were granted interim measures yesterday.

In particular:

In the K.M.I. case, our communication with the refugees, amongst them 9 children and a woman in need of haemodialysis who allegedly died on the islet, was lost on 20/4 while the application for interim measures before the ECtHR was pending. The Greek authorities' response to the GCR's intervention was that they had not located them. A few days later, on 24/4, most of the refugees re-entered Greece together with other Syrian refugees and were found themselves again stranded on an islet. GCR once more sent an intervention to the Greek authorities requesting their rescue and compliance with the ECtHR ruling.

The refugees complain that, both on 20/4 and on 25/4, they were pushed back to Turkey. As per their complaint, the second pushback also took place while the ECtHR had already granted interim measures to them, yet nevertheless, the Greek authorities arrested them, transferred them to a closed space in Neo Chimonio, Orestiada, and a few hours later pushed them back to Turkey.

The refugees also complain that during the two push back operations by the Greek authorities they were stripped naked and were subjected to violence, even the women, while two of the men were afterwards treated for injuries in a hospital in Turkey. As concerns the woman who allegedly died on the islet before the first pushback, the refugees describe that, due to lack of medical care, she developed swelling all over her body and died shortly afterwards. As we have been informed, the Head of the Orestiada Public Prosecutor's Office intends to start a preliminary investigation.

In the A.D. case, our communication with the refugees, who were stranded for days on an islet, amongst whom 17 children, was lost on 14/4 and since then they were missing until yesterday. The Greek authorities' response to GCR's intervention was that they had not located them. Yesterday, most of the refugees, alongside another 12 Syrians, re-entered Greece and found themselves again stranded on an islet in the Evros river.

The refugees complain that on 14/4 and while their request for interim measures was pending before the ECtHR, they were subjected by the Greek authorities to a pushback operation to Turkey. GCR informed the Greek authorities (and the ECtHR) of their re-entrapment on an islet, requested their rescue and compliance with the Court's decision. In our communication with them, the refugees complain that on 28-4-2022, around 7:30 to 8:00 pm, Greeks in military uniform appeared, urging them to leave the islet. The refugees sent to us a video showing two military vehicles on the opposite shore and also photos of the children, amongst whom a girl with a respiratory problem receiving oxygen from a device. They also told us that the life of a 1-month-old baby is at risk without access to food. As for the other children, they are constantly crying, as they have been bitten by insects (see photo). Also, it is cold and their strength is failing them.

On Friday 29/4/2022, the ECtHR also granted interim measures (S.S. case) for the group of the 12 Syrian refugees, amongst whom 3 children, who are also stranded on the same islet.

It should be noted that the refugees, even from the groups that were rescued, complain that in the past they had been subjected to violent and informal return (pushback) to Turkey by the Greek authorities.

GCR calls on the Greek authorities to urgently and immediately comply with the ECtHR’s decisions, before their health is put at even greater risk and before we end up mourning more victims.

Since the start of the year, GCR has sent 28 interventions to the Greek authorities for the cases of more than 350 refugees, at least 65 who were children, from Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq, who entered Greece from the Evros region seeking international protection. In 12 of these interventions, the Greek authorities responded positively on locating them and providing them access to the procedures provided by law. In the rest of the cases, the Greek authorities either did not reply or replied that they had not been able to locate them. In at least 5 of these cases, which concerned refugees from Turkey and Syria, our organisation was informed that the refugees were informally and forcibly returned by the Greek authorities to Turkey, without being given the opportunity to submit an asylum application. 

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