From Idomeni to Strasbourg: Refugees denied their right to have rights

European Court of Human Rights dangerously condones mass pushback

North Macedonia – Pushbacks – Idomeni

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 North Macedonia 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. The Macedonian Young Lawyers Association additionally filed a Third Party Intervention in support of the claimants in June 2017. 

In 2022, the court ruled that the collective expulsion did not violate the convention. The Court switched culpability from the perpetrators to the victims, finding that the applicants’ pushback was the result of their own conduct since they should have approached the official border crossing. The Court claimed the applicants would have had access to apply for asylum at the border - which they simply did not have. 

To reach this conclusion the Court ignored the evidence submitted by the applicants showing that North Macedonia's borders had been abruptly closed, that its official border post was inaccessible to refugees and had never authorized legal entry to a single asylum seeker. 



These legal proceedings form part of the broader struggle against pushbacks at European borders and towards guaranteeing refugees’ fundamental right to have rights. 


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European Convention on Human Rights

The European Convention on Human Rights sets out agreed standards of human rights and fundemental freedoms in Europe.

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Illegal pushbacks or forced returns at EU borders represent a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights and refugee laws. 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.

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