Bulgaria’s pushback practice condemned by ECtHR

Turkish journalist unlawfully returned to Turkey

Bulgaria – Pushbacks – ECtHR

Bulgaria’s systematic expulsion of refugees and migrants to Turkey without an examination of the individual risk of ill-treatment violates the European Convention on Human Rights. This is what the European Court of Human Rights ruled in July 2021. The court declared that Bulgaria’s handover of Turkish journalist D back to Turkey was unlawful since the authorities had failed to carry out an assessment of the risk the journalist faced in Turkey and had deprived him of the possibility to challenge the removal. Bulgaria was ordered to pay 15.000 euros in compensation to the applicant and must propose an action plan to show what measures the State will take to end pushbacks.

ECCHR continues to engage in this process and submitted a rule 9 report with Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria in September 2022. The report assesses how violent pushbacks from Bulgaria have intensified and makes recommendations to Bulgaria to assist in the full implementation of the judgment.

Case

D is a journalist who had worked for the Turkish daily newspaper Zaman and the press agency Cihan, both perceived by the Turkish government as supporting the Gülen movement which was designated a terrorist organization (FETÖ). In the wake of an attempted coup in July 2016, D was dismissed and his press accreditation revoked. Fearing further reprisals, he boarded a lorry in October 2016, crossed into Bulgaria and was apprehended close to the Romanian border.

Despite expressing his fear of return, at no point did the Bulgarian officers assess the risk he faced in Turkey. He was refused access to both a lawyer and interpreter and was forced to sign documents he did not understand. Within less than 24 hours, D was handcuffed and handed over to the Turkish authorities who held him in detention. He was later tried and convicted of membership of FETÖ and sentenced to seven and a half years. This conviction relied heavily on the fact that D had the Bylock application on his cell phone, considered by Turkish courts as tantamount to affiliation to the Gülen movement.

Although he had not specifically requested asylum in front of the Bulgarian authorities, the court clarified that if the state was made aware of facts that could expose an individual to risk of ill-treatment on return in breach of article 3 ECHR (prohibition of torture), it was incumbent on the state to assess such a risk of its own motion. Additionally, the court found the authorities had acted in extreme haste, failing to comply with domestic procedures, and rendering the available remedies redundant so that D was unable to challenge the removal, breaching article 13 ECHR (right to an effective remedy).

The applicant’s case was supported by Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria and PRO ASYL.

Context

Acting as a gatekeeper to the EU with its key position at the union’s external border, Bulgaria has long adopted the strategy of brutal pushbacks, unlawfully handing refugees directly back to their persecutors in Turkey. NGOs have consistently reported on this practice, documenting how Turkish nationals in particular are denied access to asylum.

documents (4)

Partners

glossary (3)

Definition

European Convention on Human Rights

The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms came into force in 1953. The Convention can only be ratified by member states of the Council of Europe. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg oversees the enforcement of the obligations set out in the Convention.

Topics (1)

Insight

Pushbacks

Kilometers of barbed wire exclusion fences, thousands of high-tech patrols at sea, in the air and on land, pushback agreements with neighboring countries: the European Union goes to great lengths to exclude people fleeing from war, persecution and hardship in their home countries. To justify their actions leaders in Brussels and the EU member states claim the pushbacks are politically necessary and permitted under law.

Every other week another boat carrying migrants and refugees capsizes or sinks off the coast of Italy or Malta. Witnesses frequently report instances of abuse at the borders between Turkey and Greece. There is a steady climb in the number of people who lose their lives while trying to cross the Moroccan-Spanish border. All of these events serve as evidence of the terrible failure of the EU’s asylum and refugee policies.

Illegal pushbacks or forced returns at EU borders represent a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights and refugee laws. In the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern coast of Africa, refugees and migrants are repeatedly subjected to brutal violence from border guards. Anyone attempting to enter these Spanish cities – and thereby reach EU territory – is immediately deported to Morocco without any examination of their right to asylum.

Since 2014, ECCHR has been examining the scope for legal intervention against the practice of pushbacks in the EU and has been helping affected persons with individual legal proceedings.

Map

Discover our Living Open Archive