On 14 March 2016, more than 1,500 refugees were collectively and summarily pushed back from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to Greece – an operation violating the fundamental rights which signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights purport to guarantee. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is now examining the large-scale collective expulsions of refugees from FYROM to the border camp Idomeni in Greece.
Two women and six men (names withheld for protection) from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan crossed the Greek-Macedonian border alongside approximately 1,500 other refugees on 14 March 2016. The Macedonian military apprehended them and forced them back to Greece through improvised holes in the newly constructed border fence. They had no possibility to ask for asylum or to take legal action against their summary deportation from FYROM.
The eight individuals assert that their collective expulsion without an examination of individual circumstances and without access to an effective remedy is in breach of Article 4 Protocol 4 (Prohibition of Collective Expulsion) and Article 13 (Right to an Effective Remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In September 2016, the applicants therefore submitted individual complaints to the ECtHR. They are jointly supported by ECCHR and PRO ASYL and represented by ECCHR partner lawyer Carsten Gericke from Hamburg.
In January 2017, the European Court of Human Rights communicated the case to the Macedonian government and asked several questions on the expulsions at the border. In the course of the subsequent proceedings, both the Macedonian government and the applicants submitted further observations to the Court. Moreover, the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association authored a Third Party Intervention in support of the claimants in June 2017. A decision on the case by the court is pending.
ECCHR sees these legal proceedings as an important step in the struggle against push-backs at European borders and for refugees’ fundamental right to have rights. The present submission to the European Court is one of the very few cases addressing collective expulsions at terrestrial borders, and the first case challenging the human rights violations occurring in the context of border reinforcement along the Balkan Route.