Human Rights Court condemns Greece for migrant boat deaths off Farmakonisi

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on Thursday that Greece violated the European Convention on Human Rights in connection with the sinking of a migrant boat in 2014 that killed 11 refugees, including eight children.

The 16 applicants – 13 Afghans, two Syrians and one Palestinian – testified that their boat sank while being towed at high speed by a Greek Coast Guard vessel towards Turkey. Greek authorities said they were guiding the boat to the Greek coast as part of a rescue operation.

The Court found that “there were shortcomings in the proceedings” and concluded that the national authorities had failed to carry out a thorough and effective investigation capable of shedding light on the circumstances in which the ship sank.

It also found that the 12 applicants, who were on board the vessel after it sank, “were subjected to degrading treatment in connection with the body searches to which they were subjected upon arrival at Pharmakonisi”.

The Court held that Greece was to pay EUR 330,000 in respect of damages suffered by the applicants: EUR 100,000 to one of the applicants, EUR 80,000 to the three applicants jointly, EUR 40,000 to another applicant and EUR 10,000 to each of the remaining eleven.

The court stated that it was “unable to express a position on a number of specific details” of the operation that took place on 20 January 2014, or whether there was an attempt to push the applicants back to the Turkish coast. This failure “has much to do with the lack of a thorough and effective investigation by the national authorities,” the statement said.

However, he noted that the Greek Government “had not provided any explanation regarding the specific omissions and delays in the present case, and that serious questions had arisen as to how the operation had been carried out and organized. Accordingly, it found that the Greek authorities had failed to do everything that could reasonably have been expected of them to ensure that the applicants and their relatives were afforded the level of protection required by Article 2 of the Convention. There has thus been a violation of this Article in respect of all the applicants.”

Safi and Others v. Greece was filed with the ECtHR in January 2015. A Greek court initially convicted a 21-year-old Syrian refugee for shipwrecking and drowning migrants, accusing him of operating the ship. He was sentenced to 145 years in prison and fined 570,000 euros. In 2017, an appeals court ruled that no one on the ship could have prevented the fatal shipwreck and commuted the Syrian’s sentence to ten years.

The surviving illegal immigrants, with the help of five Greek and international organizations, filed a lawsuit against the Greek state in the European Court of Human Rights.

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