A group of refugees and migrants are towed in a dinghy by a coast guard patrol boat on the Greek island of Lesbos (Lesvos), Greece | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/STRINGER
A group of refugees and migrants are towed in a dinghy by a coast guard patrol boat on the Greek island of Lesbos (Lesvos), Greece | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/STRINGER

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has condemned Greek authorities for acting unlawfully in failing to protect the lives of 27 migrants during a rescue operation for a January 2014 mass drowning in the Aegean Sea that left 11 dead.

The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday condemned Greek authorities for acting unlawfully in failing to protect the lives of 27 migrants during a rescue operation for a January 2014 mass drowning in the Aegean Sea that left 11 dead.

In the sentence, which will become definitive after three months if the parties involved do not file an appeal, ECHR ordered Athens to pay survivors €330,000 for moral injury.

The accusations

The Safi case and others against Greece, according to a statement issued by the court, began after a complaint filed by a group of 16 survivors including 13 Afghan citizens, two Syrian citizens, and a Palestinian on a January 20, 2014 sinking of a fishing boat that had been carrying 27 foreign nationals in the Aegean Sea off the island of Farmakonisi.

The plaintiffs had been on the boat, the sinking of which left 11 people dead including relatives of the plaintiffs.

The survivors said that a Greek coastguard ship was responsible for the sinking in an attempt to push the migrants back towards Turkish waters, leading to the capsizing of the fishing boat.

Greek authorities claimed that the boat had been towed towards the island of Farmakonisi to rescue the migrants and had capsized due to sudden movements of passengers onboard.

Sentence and judges' comments

In the sentence, the judges unanimously said that there had above all been two violations of Art. 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the first, the court found that there had been deficiencies in the procedures followed, ruling that the Greek authorities had not conducted a through and effective investigation able to shed light on the circumstances in which the boat sunk.

In the second, the court ruled that the Greek authorities had not done everything it could have been expected to do to provide the survivors and their family members with the level of protection required by Art.2 of the convention.

The judges also noted a violation of Art. 3 (prohibition of degrading and inhuman treatment) for 12 of the survivors who, after the boat sunk, were subjected to degrading body searches immediately upon their arrival on Farmakonisi.

On ruling against Greece, ECHR said that the authorities had been unable to explain numerous deficiencies that emerged from the evidence in its possession on how the rescue operation was managed.

The judges said that the there was not enough proof for the migrants' claims that the tragedy had been caused by the coast guard, but said that there was enough to prove that the decisions made by the Greek authorities did not make it possible to protect the lives of those on the boat.

ECHR highlighted in particular the choice to send a motorboat to the fishing boat that was not equipped for the rescue despite bad weather conditions. They also listed all the delays in requesting assistance after the migrant boat had capsized and begun to sink.



CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the European Court of Human Rights as an EU court. This is incorrect -- the court is affiliated with the Council of Europe, not the European Union.

 

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