In the first two weeks of March 2021, the Legal Centre Lesvos (LCL) submitted five applications for urgent interim measures to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Three of these interim measures were granted by the Court within 48 hours of submission – A.J. v Greece on 4 March, A.M. v Greece on 5 March, and H.A. v Greece on 9 March. In response to the fourth, the Court requested further medical documents within a 7 day deadline, which the person making the application was unable to obtain given the obstacles to accessing medical services in Lesvos – which was itself part of the subject matter of the application. The fifth application is still pending.
Interim measures, under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, are granted only where the ECtHR agrees there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm to the person making the application. Interim measures are mainly granted in situations concerning violations of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) – the right to life; and violations of Article 3 ECHR – the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. They are a measure of last resort, used where all else fails.
LCL filed these applications for urgent interim measures to the ECtHR precisely because all else had failed these individuals. The decision to go to the ECtHR followed months of communication with the UNHCR, with the Head of the Mavrovouni Reception and Identification Centre (RIC), and the Vulnerability Focal Point of the RIC, setting out the need for medical treatment not available in Lesvos, and for appropriate accommodation. It followed having even made a complaint to the Greek Ombudsman, all to no avail. A.J. is a heavily pregnant woman with shrapnel injuries causing seizures, numbness, immobility and pain. A.M. is an elderly, physically disabled woman unable to walk and suffering from multiple comorbidities. H.A. has facial paralysis, is a survivor of war and is also in a state of deteriorating physical and mental health. All three had survived the fires that destroyed old Moria refugee camp in September 2020, survived a week sleeping in the streets between police barricades, inhaling police tear gas, without food, water, shelter, basic amenities; only to be accommodated in the hastily constructed Mavrovouni RIC in conditions unfit for human habitation: exposed to lead poisoning, to Covid-19, and to all the elements on a rocky outcrop in winter. For all three individuals, the living conditions in Mavrovouni RIC have already caused irreparable harm to their physical and mental health. LCL argued in the ECtHR applications that the inhuman and degrading camp conditions, compounded by A.J., A.M., and H.A.’s particular health conditions, violated their rights under Articles 2 and 3 ECHR and posed an imminent risk of further irreparable harm.
In granting each application, the Court indicated to the Government of Greece its obligation to guarantee, to A.J. A.M. and H.A respectively, living conditions compatible with Article 3 of the Convention having regard to their state of health, and to provide them with adequate healthcare. These successive ECtHR decisions are a damning indictment of reception conditions in Lesvos, which not only fall miserably short of the minimum standards mandated by the European Reception Conditions Directive 2013/EU/33, but violate the non-derogable right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. They are an indictment of the UNHCR, which has had responsibility, for years, for various aspects of the process of identifying individuals in need of transfer to the mainland as well as for facilitating such transfer, and which cannot be held to account by Courts such as the ECtHR. They are an indictment of the Reception and Identification Service, which has had responsibility for transfers to the mainland since the UNHCR handed over competency to the Greek authorities for the implementation of ESTIA accommodation on 1 January 2021. A.J. and A.M. had both been waiting for over 30 weeks, while H.A. had been waiting for 10 months, for urgent medical examinations recommended by the General Hospital of Mytilene that are not available in Lesvos. Following the ECtHR decisions, A.J, A.M. and H.A. were all transferred to Athens in a matter of days. It is worth noting that this transfer took place for A.M. and her son whose care she depends on, despite the fact that both are no longer technically in the asylum procedure, which has consistently been cited by authorities as a reason not to transfer individuals, despite the fact that the right to life and to be free from the inhuman and degrading treatment that deprivation of healthcare constitutes must take precedence over immigration status.
Once again, it should never have required an application to the European Court of Human Rights for the Greek state to comply with its own laws. The very fact that A.J., A.M., and H.A. were not identified, prioritised and transferred to the mainland for requisite medical attention as a matter of urgency by the Greek authorities and UNHCR, over such a long period of time, is further proof that the laws on international protection in Greece fail to even safeguard the conditions of bare life, let alone the conditions of human dignity, self-determination and flourishing that A.J., A.M., and H.A. and everybody subject to Europe’s violent border regime deserve. There are approximately 6,836 people living in Mavrovouni RIC in the same inhuman and degrading conditions. Many of them have physical and mental health conditions and particular needs analogous to A.J., A.A., or H.A. In light of the repeated grant of interim measures against the government of Greece by the ECtHR, the Greek state must now act to:
- Immediately facilitate transfer to the mainland for the numerous individuals in situations analogous to A.J., A.M. and H.A.
- Ensure provision of medical examination and assistance for all people living in Mavrovouni RIC to prevent the risk of irreparable harm to mental and physical health recognised by the ECtHR in A.J. v Greece, A.M. v Greece and H.A. v Greece arising in future.
- Provide accommodation compatible with human dignity for all migrants in Greece. As a minimum: decent housing, adequate nutrition, accessible health and sanitation facilities – in sites not contaminated by lead. and with sufficient space, hygiene facilities and access to services to guard against Covid-19.
- Ensure that accommodation compatible with human dignity, access to medical services and transfer to the mainland are provided irrespective of immigration status in accordance with Article 5(2) of the Greek constitution and non-derogable rights under Article 2 and 3 ECHR.