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Refugees Returned to Greece Sue Macedonia in Strasbourg

Eight refugees from the Middle East are suing Macedonia in the European Court of Human Rights, saying it violated their human rights by forcing them back to Greece.
Refugees at the Greece-Macedonia border this winter. Photo by: Anadolu Agency

Eight people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are suing Macedonia in Strasbourg, claiming that its forceful expulsion of refugees breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

Assisted by two non-profit groups, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, ECCHR, and Pro Asyl, the two women and six men submitted their complaint to Strasbourg on September 13.

“The closure of the Greek-Macedonian border made [their] legal entry to Europe via the Balkan route de facto impossible,” ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck was quoted as saying.

Pro Asyl’s spokesperson for Europe, Karl Kopp, said that the court “offers hope that victims of systematic unlawful collective expulsion from FYROM [Macedonia’s provisional UN reference] to Greece may find a measure of justice”.

The eight people, whose names the two NGOs did not disclose for reasons of privacy, say they crossed the Greek–Macedonian border alongside about 1,500 others on March 14 2016.

Macedonia had just closed its southern border to the flow of refugees and built a barbed wire fence to stop illegal entries.

This caused a buildup of thousands of refugees on the Greek side, near the Idomeni border crossing, who were hoping to pass the border and continue their journey to Western Europe.

“The Macedonian military apprehended them and forced them [the eight] back to Greece through improvised holes in the newly constructed border fence.

“The claimants had no possibility to ask for asylum or to take legal action against their summary deportation from FYROM,” the ECCHR press statement said.

It also said the push-backs were carried out without consideration for individual circumstances and violated Article 4, Protocol 4 [prohibition on collective expulsion] and Article 13 [right to an effective remedy] of the Convention on Human Rights.

The Macedonian Foreign Ministry told BIRN that it needed more time to acquaint itself with the case before issuing any comment.

Macedonia closed its border to migrants and refugees following the example of Slovenia and other countries on the so-called “Balkan route” to Western Europe.

The government in Skopje claimed it could not receive any more people onto its territory without being sure they would continue their journey.

At least 12,000 people were stuck for some two months at Idomeni, on the Greek side of the border, in an improvised tent camp and living in sub-standard conditions.

At times, the tension escalated into violent clashes between Macedonian security forces and refugees who tried to push their way in.

The tensions only subsided when Greece started re-settling the refugees to other camps further away from the border area.