On 21 March, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a judgment in case O.S.A. and others v. Greece (application no. 39065/16), regarding detention conditions and access to legal remedies for four asylum applicants in the Vial centre on the island of Chios.

The applicants, all nationals of Afghanistan, arrived on Chios on 21 March 2016, one day after the entry into force of the EU-Turkey Joint Statement. They were apprehended and transferred to the Vial reception centre, where they remained under detention until the centre was designated as a semi-open facility. They subsequently complained that their detention conditions amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment and that they could not have their detention judicially reviewed, as they did not have access to legal remedies and information had been miscommunicated.

In its assessment of the complaint under Article 5 (4) ECHR, the Court examined the particular circumstances to assess the effectiveness and practical accessibility of the available legal remedies. The Court emphasised the fact that the detention decisions were only written in Greek and included general and vague references regarding the legal options for challenge the applicants had. Furthermore, the applicants were not in a position to understand the legal aspects of their case and they did not appear to have access to lawyers on the island. In this connection, the Court noted that the Greek government had also not specified whether refugee-assisting NGOs on the island had enough funds and lawyers to address the large number of asylum applicants in the Vial centre. It concluded that the legal remedies were not available to the applicants and that there had been a violation of Article 5 (4).

Considering the lawfulness of the detention, the Court relied on J. R. and others to state that there had not been a violation of Article 5 (1), as the detention was lawful in terms of its legal basis, purpose and duration of one month. Lastly, regarding the requirements of Article 3, the Court again noted that the applicants’ case is characterised by the brevity of their detention and noted that reports by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture were not particularly critical of the conditions at the Vial centre. The Court found that neither Article 3 nor Article 5 (1) had been violated.

Based on an unofficial translation by the ELENA Weekly Legal Update.