ECtHR delivers judgment in M.A. v. Lithuania, concerning the removal to Belarus of Chechen asylum seekers

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

On 11 December, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on a case concerning a Russian family with five children, who attempted to lodge asylum applications on the Lithuanian border but were refused entry and were returned to Belarus.

The Court did not accept the Government’s argument that the applicants had not expressed willingness to seek asylum, since the border guards would not have been able to understand in any case the applicants’ oral requests made in Russian. In this line, the Court recalled that the willingness to apply for asylum does not need to be expressed in any particular form and that member States should provide trained border officers, capable of detecting and understanding asylum requests, even in cases where asylum seekers are not in a position to clearly communicate their intention to seek asylum.

The judges went on to observe that the word “azul’” in Cyrillic that the applicants had written on the seven decisions refusing them entry into Lithuania should have been sufficient indication for the border guards that the applicants were seeking asylum. Therefore, it concluded that the applicants had submitted asylum applications, either orally or in writing, at the Lithuanian border.

In this context, the Court also emphasized that the central question was whether the Lithuanian authorities had carried out an adequate assessment of the applicants’ claim that they would face an Article 3 risk upon their return to Belarus. It noted that the applicants were returned to Belarus without there being any assessment of their asylum claims and thus found it evident that measures which the Government claimed constituted adequate safeguards against the arbitrary removal of asylum seekers – such as the supervision of border guards by superior officers or the monitoring of borders by non-governmental organisations – were not effective in the present case.

Consequently, the Court found that the failure to allow the applicants to submit asylum applications and their removal to Belarus amounted to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. Furthermore, by recalling that an effective remedy requires an automatic suspensive effect and by taking into account that the applicants would have been immediately returned to Belarus if they had appealed the decisions -as foreseen under Lithuanian law- the Court found that there was not an effective domestic remedy to be exhausted in the country and found a violation of Article 13 ECHR.

This item was reproduced with the permission of ECRE from the weekly ELENA legal update. The purpose of these updates is to inform asylum lawyers and legal organizations supporting asylum seekers and refugees of recent developments in the field of asylum law. Please note that the information provided is taken from publicly available information on the internet. Every reasonable effort is made to make the content accurate and up to date at the time each item is published but no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by ECRE.   



Effective access to procedures
Effective remedy (right to)
Inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Procedural guarantees
Right to remain pending a decision (Suspensive effect)