Court raps Belgium and Greece over asylum seeker

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Europe's human rights court rapped Belgium and Greece Friday in the case of an Afghan asylum-seeker, saying he had suffered abuses in both countries.

It ordered Greece to pay the refugee, identified only as MSS, a total of 5,725 euros ($7,120) in compensation and costs and Belgium 32,250 euros.

The court said that MSS had no recourse in Belgium against his expulsion, while Greece's asylum procedures were deficient and its detention and living conditions breached the European rights convention.

MSS had applied for asylum in Belgium in February 2009, but Brussels asked Athens to handle the case under the European Union's Dublin II regulations as he had originally entered the EU via Greece.

He was sent back to Athens the following June, despite a warning in the meantime from the UN refugee agency criticising the deficiencies in Greek asylum procedure and the conditions of reception of asylum seekers, and recommending the suspension of transfers to Greece, a court summary said.

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.

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.

Deficiencies concerned information and communication, trained staff, a shortage of interpreters and a lack of legal aid, which meant asylum seekers had very little chance of having their applications seriously examined.

All these shortcomings must have been known to the Belgian authorities, which could and should have decided to handle the case themselves, the court said.

Germany on Wednesday became the latest EU state to suspend sending asylum seekers back to Greece, to give Athens time to improve its badly overcrowded detention facilities.

Other European countries including Britain, Sweden and Norway have taken similar measures.

Athens has pledged to step up moves to clear a backlog of some 47,000 applicants, many awaiting approval for years.

© 2011 AFP

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