M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece
European Court of Human Rights
Application No. 30696/09 (2011)
M.S.S. (plaintiff) was an Afghan citizen who fled Afghanistan, fearing persecution from the Taliban due to his service as an interpreter for international forces. M.S.S. first fled to Greece (defendant); however, Greek authorities placed him in detention for a week in deplorable conditions and then released him with an order to leave Greece. M.S.S. left as ordered and went to Belgium (defendant), where he applied for asylum. However, Belgium returned M.S.S. to Greece pursuant to the Dublin Regulations, which provided that asylum applicants could be sent to safe third countries to request asylum, typically the first European Union country the applicant had entered. M.S.S.’s attorney sought emergency relief to prevent the transfer, but the European Court of Human Rights (the court) denied relief. Upon return to Greece, M.S.S. was detained for three days and then released onto the streets with no place to live, no money, and no real prospects for work. M.S.S. lived as a homeless person for months with no communication regarding his application. M.S.S. was later arrested, detained, and convicted for attempting to leave his hopeless situation in Greece. M.S.S. faced the real possibility of being returned to Afghanistan without the merits of his asylum application even being examined. However, M.S.S. received a suspended sentence. M.S.S. filed a claim against Greece and Belgium with the court. M.S.S. alleged Greece had violated Articles 2, 3, and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the convention) through his detention in inhumane conditions, his homelessness, deficiencies in the asylum system that subjected him to possible refoulement, and lack of effective remedies. There were tens of thousands of asylum applicants in Greece and only 1,000 spaces in reception centers. M.S.S. alleged Belgium also had violated Articles 2, 3, and 13 of the convention by transferring M.S.S. to Greece, knowing about Greece’s treatment of applicants, Greece’s deficiencies, and Belgium’s own ineffective remedies. The court noted that two months prior to M.S.S.’s transfer, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (the high commissioner) had sent Belgium a letter pleading to stop transferring applicants to Greece due to Greece’s deficiencies, despite the court’s K.R.S. decision, around six months prior to the transfer. In K.R.S., the court had considered the high commissioner’s concerns regarding Greece. However, Belgium was satisfied with Greece’s diplomatic assurances that proper procedures would be followed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Per curiam)
Concurrence/Dissent (Bratza, J.)
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