When Europe sealed its borders in 2016, a group of over 1,500 refugees stranded in dire conditions in the informal refugee camp of Idomeni in Greece, walked into North Macedonia to find safety. Together they were intercepted, circled, boarded into vans, driven to the border fence and forced back by armed officers through a hole in the fence. In April 2022, the European Court of Human Rights found that this mass pushback did not violate their rights.
Two women and six men from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, supported by ECCHR and PRO ASYL, had submitted their application against Greece in 2016. The eight individuals asserted that their collective expulsion without an examination of individual circumstances and without access to an effective remedy was 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 January 2017, the European Court of Human Rights communicated the case to the North Macedonian government and asked several questions on the expulsions at the border. In the course of the subsequent proceedings, both the North 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.
However, the court ruled that the collective expulsion did not violate the convention. It found that the applicants’ pushback was the result of their own conduct since they should have made use of official entry procedures. Hereby it ignored the evidence submitted by the applicants showing that borders were closed and at the relevant time North Macedonia was not accepting a single request for asylum. The applicants are considering how to challenge the judgment.
ECCHR sees these legal proceedings as an important step in the struggle against pushbacks at European borders and for refugees’ fundamental right to have rights.