What It Means To Treat Asylum Seekers With Humanity

You probably know about  the migrant crisis facing Europe as we see the largest movement of people since World War 2. However heated the debate over migration, human rights and refugee law is clear that all migrants are people entitled to respect and dignity. And if they are seeking asylum, they should be given the opportunity to put their case.

A man from Afghanistan came to Europe seeking refuge. Entering via Greece, he was detained there for a few days in terrible conditions: little food, a dirty mattress on a bare floor in an overcrowded cell, with access to a toilet only at the guards’ discretion. These conditions had been reported before, by a variety of concerned observers. The system for processing claims was equally bad. 

After a few days he made his way to Belgium. By this time, reports of conditions facing migrants in Greece were so alarming that the UN High Commission for Refugees had written to Belgium recommending they stop sending migrants back there. Under the system in operation at the time, he was sent back to Greece, and a grim replay of the earlier situation played out. This time he was also beaten by police.

The European Court said this was unacceptable. Both the system itself and the conditions facing migrants amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. They were a breach of the human rights of those seeking refuge, aggravated by the extreme vulnerability of such people.  Not only was Greece violating human rights; by sending people back to such conditions, Belgium was too.

In consequence, asylum seekers can no longer be sent back to a country – even a fellow European country – where the system so signally fails to protect their rights. Everyone is entitled to respect for their dignity, and every state has a part to play in protecting it.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

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