(Jan. 24, 2011) On January 21, 2011, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delivered its judgment in the case of M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece and held that Greece and Belgium violated three articles of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms pertaining to right to life, prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment, and right to an effective remedy. (Press Release, Forthcoming Grand Chamber Judgment (Jan. 17, 2011), http://www.echr.coe.int/echr/Homepage_EN [click on “Cases Pending Before the Grand Chamber,” then scroll down to Belgium entry and click on “Press Releases,” then scroll down to item 5, “Announce Grand Chamber Judgment M.S.S. v. Belgium and Greece”].)
The applicant in the case, an Afghan national, was an interpreter for air force troops in Kabul who fled his country in 2008 and entered the EU via Greece. He later moved to Belgium, where he filed an application for asylum. Belgium, in applying the criteria established by the EC “Dublin II” Regulation, which requires that the first EU Member State that an asylum seeker enters becomes responsible for granting asylum, forwarded the application to the Greek authorities. The Afghan national protested, claiming that the detention facilities were appalling in Greece and that he was likely to be sent back to his country without examination of the merits of his case. He had argued that his life was threatened should he be returned to Afghanistan. In 2009, the applicant was sent to Greece and was immediately taken to a detention center. He was released several days later and became homeless. The applicant filed an application to the ECHR, arguing that Belgium exposed him to the danger of inhuman and degrading treatment by sending him to Greece, where he faced deportation without a proper hearing of his case. He also claimed that Belgium lacked a proper remedy for asylum seekers whose initial applications were rejected.
The ECHR, in finding for the Afghan national, imposed fines of €6,000 (about US$8,172) on Greece and €30,000 on Belgium. Human rights groups viewed the judgment as illustrative of the flaws of the EU asylum system and emphasized the need to change the existing regulation to align it with the reality in various EU Member States. On the other hand, the European Commission and some other EU Members viewed the judgment more as a testament to Greece's inability to deal with asylum seekers. EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström urged Greece to “continue working to enhance the humanitarian situation of migrants.” (Valentina Pop, Human Rights Court Deals Blow to EU Asylum System, EU OBSERVER (Jan. 21, 2011), http://euobserver.com/9/31681/?rk=1.)
Meanwhile, on January 18, 2011, Greece, in an effort to deal with the country's tremendous influx of asylum seekers in the last few years and the socio-economic and human rights issues that have been generated, adopted a new Law on Establishing a New Asylum Unit and Service of First Reception, in order to harmonize its legislation with Directive 2008/115/EC on Common Standards and Procedures in Member States for Returning Illegally Staying Third Country Nationals (2008 OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES L 348, 98 (Dec. 24, 2008), http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:348:0098
The new Law removes the asylum procedure from the ambit of the police and assigns it to a new, independent authority, called the Asylum Unit, under the Ministry for the Protection of Citizens. This newly established unit will be responsible for the application and implementation of asylum procedures and other forms of international protection for foreigners and stateless persons. The Law also creates a new service to examine appeals against rejections of asylum applications by the Asylum Unit. (Hellenic Parliament, Legislation Adopted [in Greek], http://www.hellenicparliament.gr/UserFiles/bcc26661-
143b-4f2d-8916-0e0e66ba4c50/I-YPASYL-PAP.pdf (last visited Jan. 21, 2011).)