Belgium, Greece ordered to pay Afghan asylum seeker

21st January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Europe's human rights court condemned Belgium Friday for expelling an Afghan asylum seeker to Greece where migrants face squalid conditions and rapped Athens too over its poor track record.

Belgium was ordered to pay the Afghan, identified only as MSS, 32,250 euros ($43,770) in compensation and costs and Greece 5,725 euros.

Belgian authorities must have known the shortcomings in the Greek asylum system and should have decided to handle the case themselves, the court said.

MSS arrived in Greece in 2008 after a trip through Iran and Turkey and made his way to Belgium in February 2009.

But Belgium sent him back to Greece in June 2009 under the European Union's Dublin II agreement, which says asylum applications must be reviewed by the country where the person first arrived.

He was expelled despite a warning from the UN refugee agency about deficiencies in Greek asylum procedures and the reception of asylum seekers, and a UN recommendation to suspend transfers to Greece, a court summary said.

The European Commission said the ruling shows that the 27-nation bloc "urgently" needs to establish a common asylum system.

European home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem recalled that the EU executive branch proposed "an emergency mechanism" to suspend the transfer of asylum seekers back to countries whose systems face "particular pressure."

Germany became Wednesday the latest EU country to suspend sending asylum seekers back to Greece in order to give Athens time to improve its badly overcrowded detention facilities. Other European countries including Britain, Sweden and Norway have taken similar measures.

Belgium rejected an appeal from MSS that he risked detention in Greece in appalling conditions, that there were deficiencies in the asylum system in Greece and that he feared ultimately being sent back to Afghanistan without any examination of the reasons why he had fled, the Strasbourg court said.

He claimed he had escaped a murder attempt by the Taliban in reprisal for his having worked as an interpreter for air force troops stationed in Kabul, the court said.

At Athens airport, "he was immediately placed in detention in an adjacent building, where, according to his reports, he was locked up in a small space with 20 other detainees, access to the toilets was restricted, detainees were not allowed out into the open air, were given very little to eat and had to sleep on dirty mattresses or on the bare floor," the court said.

Following his release and issuance of an asylum seeker's card, he lived in the street, with no means of subsistence.

Attempting to leave Greece with a false identity card, MSS was arrested and again placed in the detention facility for a week, where he alleged he was beaten by the police.

"After his release, he continued to live on the street, occasionally receiving aid from local residents and the Church." Steps were taken to find him accommodation but no housing was ever offered to him.

The court said the conditions of detention and police brutality were backed up by international bodies and non-governmental organisations, and concluded MSS had suffered degrading treatment.

"In spite of the obligations incumbent on the Greek authorities... he spent months living in extreme poverty, unable to cater for his most basic needs -- food, hygiene and a place to live -- while in fear of being attacked and robbed," it added.

"Had the authorities examined his asylum request promptly, they could have substantially alleviated his suffering," the court ruled, stressing that the Greek asylum procedures did not protect him from arbitrary deportation.

© 2011 AFP

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