Court: Children detained in degrading conditions in Greek police stations

Judges have found violations of human rights law linked to the holding of unaccompanied migrant children in degrading conditions in Greek police stations.

The ruling today, followed a complaint from six Syrian nationals, two Iraqi nationals and one Moroccan national. They entered Greece just before the signing of the migration agreement concluded in 2016 between the member states of the European Union and Turkey, the “EU-Turkey Declaration.”

The applicants were seeking to travel on to other European countries. They were between 14 and 17 years of age at the material time and were unaccompanied.

On various dates they were placed under “protective custody” in police stations of northern Greece, for periods of between 21 and 33 days. They complained about overcrowding in their cells, a lack of heating, ventilation and lighting, and the poor quality of the food, adding that they had not been allowed to go outside for a walk and that they had slept on the floor in dirty sheets.

One of them claimed to have suffered from asthma. They were subsequently transferred to the Diavata open reception centre, which since April 2016 has had a safe zone for unaccompanied minors.

In today’s Chamber judgment1 in the case of H.A. and Others v. Greece (application no. 19951/16) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights on account of the conditions of the applicants’ detention in the police stations;

no violation of Article 3 as regards the living conditions in the Diavata centre;

a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) taken together with Article 3;

a violation of Article 5 §§ 1 and 4 (right to liberty and security / right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of a detention measure).

As Just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Greece was to pay 4,000 euros (EUR) to each applicant in respect of nonpecuniary damage and EUR 1,500 to all the applicants jointly in respect of costs and expenses.

The court found, first, that the detention conditions to which the applicants had been subjected in the various police stations represented degrading treatment, and explained that detention on those premises could have caused them to feel isolated from the outside world, with potentially negative consequences for their physical and moral well-being.

The court also held that the living conditions in the Diavata centre, which had a safe zone for unaccompanied minors, had not exceeded the threshold of seriousness required to engage Article 3. It further took the view that the applicants had not had an effective remedy.

Secondly, the court found that the applicants’ placement in border posts and police stations could be regarded as a deprivation of liberty which was not lawful within the meaning of Article 5 § 1.

The court also noted that the applicants had spent several weeks in police stations before the National Service of Social Solidarity (“EKKA”) recommended their placement in reception centres for unaccompanied minors; and that the public prosecutor at the Criminal Court, who was their statutory guardian, had not put them in contact with a lawyer and had not lodged an appeal on their behalf for the purpose of discontinuing their detention in the police stations in order to speed up their transfer to the appropriate facilities.

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