European Court of Human Rights questions Spain on “push backs” of refugees and migrants

For the first time an international court will consider the unlawfulness of automatic expulsions – also known as “push backs” or “devoluciones en caliente” – at the Spanish-Moroccan land border. On 30 July 2015, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) published its first decision on a case brought in February 2015 by two sub-Saharan men - from Mali and the Ivory Coast respectively - who were summarily and collectively expelled from Spanish territory on 13 August 2014 as part of a group of over 75 individuals.

Video: Not an isolated incident - push-back in Melilla at the spanish-moroccan border (13 August 2014)

This was not an isolated case, but the standard practice of Spanish border guards. Now the ECtHR requests an answer from the Spanish government to the applicants’ claim that their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights were violated.

Case Report: Spanish-Moroccan land border in Melilla – a lawless zone of automatic expulsions

Case Report: Spanish-Moroccan land border in Melilla – a lawless zone of automatic expulsions (July 2015) (369.3 KiB)

UN and EU bodies confirm complaint against Spain

The claimants position is confirmed in legal briefs submitted in support of the complaint from the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International and the Spanish refugee organization CEAR.
Spain has been heavily criticized by a number of international institutions and organizations for its longstanding practice of push backs and for the recent implementation of a new law which seeks to legalize them. Spanish Interior Minister Fernández Días has continued to assert that push backs are legal and do not breach national or human rights law.
The applicants’ Spanish lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, said: “Any ruling that push backs are in violation of the applicants’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights would imply that Spain’s new law on collective expulsions itself is incompatible with the Convention and should be amended.”
The ECtHR’s decision in N.D. and N.T. v. Spain (8675/15 and 8697/15) is a first step and the Court’s questions to the Spanish government go to the heart of the subject, namely the prohibition, under the European Convention, of collective expulsions without individual process. Now Spain is requested to provide information on the procedures and identification measures taken at the time of the applicants’ expulsion.

ECCHR assists applicants before the ECtHR

ECCHR has been working with the two applicants and their communities for over a year. At the ECtHR the applicants were represented by ECCHR’s cooperation attorneys, Gonzalo Boye (Spain) and Carsten Gericke (Germany).
“We welcome the Court’s decision because illegal push-backs or forced returns at the EU borders like those in Spain represent a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights and refugee laws,” said ECCHR’s General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck.


Over the past years, ECCHR has also been taking legal action on the practice of illegal push-backs in Ceuta (Spain) and Idomeni (at the Greek-Macedonian border) as well as in so-called Hotspots in Greece.


  • borders
  • Ceuta
  • ECtHR
  • EU
  • European Court of Human Rights
  • Melilla
  • Migration
  • Morocco
  • push-backs
  • Refugees
  • Spain