The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday ruled that Greece violated the European Convention of Human Rghts over the sinking of a migrant boat in 2014 in which 11 refugees, among them eight children, lost their lives.
The 16 applicants, 13 Afghans, two Syrians and one Palestinian, stated in their testimonies that their boat sank while being towed by a vessel of the Greek Coast Guard at high speed towards Turkey. Greek authorities claimed that they were guiding the boat towards the Greek coast, as part of a rescue operation.
The Court found that “there had been shortcomings in the proceedings” and concluded that the national authorities had not carried out a thorough and effective investigation capable of shedding light on the circumstances in which the boat had sunk.
It also found that the 12 of the applicants who had been on board the boat and who, after it had sunk, “had been subjected to degrading treatment on account of the body searches they had undergone on arriving in Farmakonissi.”
The Court ruled that Greece must pay 330,000 euros for damages sustained by the applicants, 100,000 euros to one of the applicants, 80,000 to three of the applicants jointly, 40,000 to another of the applicants, and 10,000 to each of the remaining 11 applicants.
The Court said that it “could not express a position on a number of specific details” of the operation that had taken place on 20 January 2014 or on whether there had been an attempt to push the applicants back to the Turkish coast. This inability “stemmed largely from the lack of a thorough and effective investigation by the national authorities,” it said.
However, it noted that the Greek government “had not provided any explanation as to the specific omissions and delays in the present case and that serious questions arose as to the manner in which the operation had been conducted and organised. Accordingly, it found that the Greek authorities had not done all that could reasonably be expected of them to provide the applicants and their relatives with the level of protection required by Article 2 of the Convention. There had therefore been a violation of that Article in respect of all the applicants.”
The case – Safi and Others v. Greece – was filed with the ECHR in January 2015.
Initially, a Greek court convicted a 21-year-old Syrian refugee for the shipwreck and drowning of the migrants, accusing him of driving the vessel. He was sentenced to 145 years in prison and a fine of 570,000 euros. A court of appeal ruled in 2017 that no person on the vessel could have prevented the fatal shipwreck and commuted the Syrian’s sentence to ten years.
The survivors and five Greek and international organizations appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.