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Panoramic photo of the building headquarters of the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France.
© Consiglio d'Europa

ECtHR: Italy and Greece condemned for indiscriminate collective expulsion and lack of access to asylum procedures

On 21 October 2014, the European Court of Human Rights released its Chamber judgment in the case Sharifi and Others v.Italy and Greece. The applicants of the case are 35 immigrants, including 32 people from Afghanistan, two from Sudan and one from Eritrea. In order to escape from their home countries, they had initially arrived in Greece and then set off to Italy. The Italian local authorities had however detected them and, without any of the procedures required by EU law being followed, they had immediately been returned to that country, where the legally required reception conditions and asylum procedures were absent. They all alleged several violations of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Court accepted with a majority that Greece had violated Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) combined with Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or regarding treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights against Reza Karimi, Yasir Zaidi, Mozamil Azimi and Najeeb Heyberi on account of the lack of access to the asylum procedure for the above-named applicants and the risk of deportation to Afghanistan, where they were likely to be subjected to ill-treatment.

The Court, then, found that the automatic return of persons from Italy to Greece by the Italian authorities amounted to collective and indiscriminate expulsion in violation of Article 4 of Protocol IV ECHR (prohibition of collective expulsion). Italy is also found guilty due to the violation of Article 3 of the Convention, as, by extraditing the immigrants in Greece, it had put them at the risks associated with the defects of the procedure for asylum granting in the country. Finally, the Court held that Italy violated Article 13 combined with Article 3 of the Convention and Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 on account of the lack of access to the asylum procedure or to any other remedy on Italian territory.

Importantly, the Court reiterated that the Dublin system - which serves to determine which EU Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national - must be implemented in accordance with the ECHR and that it does not provide a justification for collective and indiscriminate returns. The State carrying out a return is obliged to follow the prescribed procedures and to ensure that the destination country offers adequate guarantees in respect of the law, individuals' dignity and their rights protected under EU law and the Convention. This includes preventing individuals from being subsequently removed without an assessment of the risks faced in their country of origin.