On 5 December, the Legal Centre Lesvos filed an emergency petition for interim measures to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) under Rule 39 of the Court, on behalf of 21 unregistered asylum seekers recently arrived on Lesvos. On the same day, the ECtHR granted the petition, ordering “Greek authorities to locate the applicants, not remove them from Greece, provide them with food, water and medical care and to give them access to international protection procedures” (O.B. and Others v. Greece, Application no. 41926/23) (emphasis in original).
The group of 21 unregistered asylum seekers, including 10 children (2 unaccompanied), had arrived in Lesvos from Türkiye on a dinghy in the early hours of 5 December 2023. The Greek authorities, including the Coast Guard, the Police, the Reception and Identification Centre of Lesvos (RIC) and the Greek asylum service – as well as UNHCR, MSF and Frontex – were informed about the group’s presence on the island and about their desire to seek asylum from the early afternoon of 5 December. Nonetheless, the group was left without any assistance and unattended until late in the evening.
The group, which was stuck in a rocky area in the middle of the woods in Lesvos, stayed outdoors for an entire day after crossing the sea from Türkiye, they remained without food or water, and medical assistance, despite feeling cold and dehydrated, with some of the children in the group being sick with fever and a woman suffering from pain in her kidney. The group was also at imminent risk of being unlawfully expelled from Greece, given the fact that they were not registered as asylum seekers and that Greek authorities are carrying out a widely documented policy of unlawful pushbacks to Türkiye, including when migrants have reached the Greek islands. This practice has become widespread and systematic in the Aegean Region since March 2020. This situation of extreme distress exacerbated the risk to the health and lives of the Applicants, who were terrified both of being unlawfully expelled from Greece and at the prospect of spending another night outside in the woods, without blankets, shelter, food or water supply.
Given the extreme situation of distress of the group, and lack of response of the authorities, the Legal Centre Lesvos filed an emergency petition for interim measures on their behalf to the ECtHR, following which the group was finally attended by the Greek authorities and apparently taken to the Lesvos Reception and identification Centre (RIC) around 8pm, as reported by one of the Applicants afterwards.
Their situation is being followed by Vicky Aggelidou, the LCL lawyer representing them, to ensure that Greek authorities comply entirely with the Court order. Similar interim measures were granted by the ECtHR in favour of Legal Centre Lesvos’ clients in the past (e.g. in October 2021 and in February 2022) and allowed for the individuals represented to be registered in the Lesvos RIC and apply for asylum. In other cases, however, successful interim measures did not prevent migrants from being pushed back in the Aegean Sea and at the Evros border – demonstrating, once more, the reality and gravity of the risks faced by migrants arriving in Greece, as repeatedly acknowledged by the ECtHR.