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.
Today, the European Court of Human Rights found that their mass pushback did not violate their rights. The eight applicants in A.A. and Others v. North Macedonia, supported by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and PRO ASYL, will consider whether to challenge the judgment.
“The court has ignored the factual situation at the border and evidence that it was not possible to claim asylum anywhere in North Macedonia for months,” says Hanaa Hakiki, ECCHR’s senior legal advisor. “Concluding that a mass expulsion is lawful goes against the essence of the prohibition of collective expulsion.”
The applicants, a group of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, including one family and a person in a wheelchair, submitted a case against their mass expulsion from North Macedonia on 14 March 2016. Officers ignored the desperate circumstances they had fled in Greece and gave them no chance to challenge their expulsion. Instead, they sent them back to the informal refugee camp of Idomeni, where over 10,000 persons were forced to remain, surviving with no state support in squalid conditions.
“There is no justice for the eight plaintiffs and the hundreds more unnamed victims of this illegal and violent pushback. The violence, the degradation, the denial of individual rights remains unpunished. It’s a bleak day for those in search of protection and for human rights protection in Europe,” adds Karl Kopp from PRO ASYL.
Denial, deterrence and containment in inhumane conditions have defined European policy at borders since the “summer of migration” in 2015. As an immediate implementation of this decision, between 8 March and 21 September 2016, North Macedonia registered no intentions of asylum-seekers to claim asylum anywhere in the country, including at border crossings. This signalled the start of a systematic practice of pushbacks across Europe. From North Macedonia alone local reports from MYLA recorded over 16.000 pushbacks in 2021.