ECtHR decision in W.H. v. Sweden, Application No. 49341/10, 27 March 2014

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Despite finding that single women who are members of an ethnic or religious minority are at risk of ill-treatment in Southern and Central Iraq, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Sweden’s return of a failed asylum seeker with these characteristics to Iraq would not violate her rights under Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is because the ECtHR considers that the applicant, a divorced female member of the Mandaean community, can safely relocate to the Kurdistan region in Northern Iraq.

On the basis of UNHCR’s May 2012 Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Iraq, the ECtHR’s starting point was that single women living alone, despite the lack of a social network and protection by male relatives, are not automatically at risk of ill-treatment in Southern and Central Iraq. However, a single woman who is additionally a member of a minority group does face such a risk. The ECtHR acknowledged the persecution of the Mandaeans on the basis of their faith and perceived wealth, and particular vulnerability due to their low numbers, scattered locations, and lack of organisation.

While noting reports that newcomers to the Kurdistan region, especially non-Kurdish speakers, face difficulties obtaining jobs and housing, the ECtHR approved the safety of relocation. According to the ECtHR’s evaluation of the evidence, general living conditions are acceptable, there is no risk of being removed to another part of Iraq, a number of Mandaeans have safely relocated already, border restrictions and sponsor requirements don’t apply, identity documents are easy to obtain, there is access to healthcare and financial support from local authorities and UNHCR, and there are direct flights to the region from Sweden.

Read the judgment of the ECtHR.

28 March 2014

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Gender Based Persecution
Inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment