ECtHR - S.Z. v. Greece, Application no. 66702/13, 21 June 2018

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Country of Applicant: 
Syria
Date of Decision: 
21-06-2018
Citation: 
European Court of Human Rights, S.Z. v. Greece, Application no. 66702/13, 21 June 2018
Court Name: 
European Court of Human Rights (First section)
Headnote: 

The ECtHR ruled that the detention of a Syrian national was unlawful as his return to Syria was impracticable, which the authorities should have known at that time. It was incumbent on the domestic authorities to consider alternative measures in respect of the applicant. The applicant did not have the benefit of an examination of the lawfulness of his detention to a sufficient degree. Therefore, there was a violation of Articles 5(1) and (4) ECHR.

The ECtHR also ruled that his detention at the Zografou police station led to a violation of his rights under Article 3 ECHR, since it lacked the amenities required for prolonged periods of detention.

Facts: 

The applicant is a Syrian national who was arrested in Athens in September 2013 for possession of a fake French passport. He was sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment for use of a false document, giving false testimony and illegally entering the country. On 25 September 2015, the applicant was detained with a view to being expelled from the country. On 4 October 2013, the applicant appealed against the expulsion decision and submitted his asylum application. His appeal was dismissed the next day. On 8 October 2013, the applicant filed objections to his detention before the Athens Administrative Court of First Instance arguing that his detention was unlawful since his expulsion to Syria was not possible. His objection was rejected on the grounds that the applicant had not submitted any proof he was Syrian, and that the conditions of his detention were tolerable, taking into account the difficult financial situation of the country and the fact that little time had elapsed since the applicant’s arrest.

On 18 October 2013, the applicant reiterated his asylum request before the relevant authorities and, on that same date, the Director of the Attica Aliens Directorate modified the legal basis for his detention, now basing it on grounds of public order and national security and as a necessity for the speedy termination of his asylum claim. On 21 October 2013, the applicant gave his Syrian identity card to the Zografou police station. Other unsuccessful objections against his detention followed, including based on health concerns, until 12 November 2013, when the applicant was granted refugee status and released from detention a day later.

The applicant complained before the ECtHR that the detention conditions in Zografou police station led to a violation of his rights under Article 3 ECHR. He was detained in a basement, which was damp and inadequately ventilated. The cell was filthy and overcrowded, the food provided of very poor quality and he did not have access to outdoor exercise.

He also complained that his detention was unlawful as his removal to Syria was impracticable, and that he lacked an effective remedy to challenge his detention, in violation of Article 5(1) and (4).

Decision & Reasoning: 

First, the Court noted that the applicant had sufficiently substantiated his main complaints concerning the detention conditions – namely, that it was in the basement of a police station, with insufficient light and ventilation, filthy and without access to outdoor exercise. The Court also recalled that police stations are places designed to accommodate people for a short time only and that it has, in the past, found that detention in such facilities for between one and three months to be contrary to Article 3 ECHR (e.g. Kavouris and Others v. Greece). Therefore, since the applicant had been detained for fifty-two days in the Zografou police station, which lacked the amenities required for prolonged periods of detention, the ECtHR concluded that there was a violation of Article 3 ECHR.

Second, the ECtHR ruled that, while the applicant’s detention was in compliance with the letter of the national law, it should already have been sufficiently evident to the national authorities from the day the applicant submitted his Syrian passport that his removal was impracticable and would remain unlikely, in view of the conflict in Syria. This was also evident when taking into account the circular order issued by the Hellenic Police in April 2013 by which decisions ordering the detention of Syrian nationals who had entered the country illegally were suspended. The ECtHR concluded that it was incumbent on the domestic authorities to consider alternative measures that could be taken in respect of the applicant. The Court found, therefore, a violation of Article 5(1)(f) ECHR on account of the applicant’s detention as from the day he submitted his Syrian passport, asserting his nationality.

Third, the Court found that the applicant did not have the benefit of an examination of the lawfulness of his detention to a sufficient degree, and that his argument that his return to Syria was not possible was not addressed by the domestic courts despite being essential for the examination of the “lawfulness” of his detention, thus leading to a violation of Article 5(4) ECHR.

Outcome: 

In light of the above, the ECtHR found a violation of Articles 3, 5(1) and 5(4) ECHR.

Case Law Cited: 

ECtHR - Stergiopoulos v. Greece, Application no. 29049/12, , 7 December 2017

ECtHR - Barjamaj v. Greece, Application No 36657/11 (UP)

ECtHR - Dougoz v. Greece, Application No. 40907/98

ECtHR - Iatridis v. Greece [GC], Application No. 31107/96

ECtHR - Siasios et al. v. Greece, Application No. 30303/07

ECtHR - Vafiadis v. Greece, Application No. 24981/07

ECtHR - Shuvaev v. Greece, Application No. 8249/07

ECtHR - Efremidze v. Greece, Application No. 33225/08

ECtHR - Nikolova v. Bulgaria [GC], Application No. 31195/96

ECtHR - Saadi v. Royaume-Uni [GC], Application No. 13229/03

ECtHR - Aslanis v. Greece, Application No. 36401/10, UP

ECtHR - MD v. Greece, Application no. 60622/11, 13 November 2014

Azimov v. Russia, no. 67474/11,18 April 2013

ECtHR - Mathloom v. Greece, no. 48883/07

Mursic v Croatia, Application No 7334/13, 20 October 2016

ECtHR - X and Others v Austria [GC], Application no. 19010/07, 19 February 2013

ECtHR - S.K. v. Russia, Application no. 52722/15, 14 February 2017

ECtHR - Grigorievskikh v Russia, Application No. 22/03, 9 April 2009

ECtHR - Adamantidis v. Greece, Application no. 10587/10, 17 April 2014

ECtHR - Kavouris and Others v. Greece, Application no. 73237/12, 17 April 2014
Other sources cited: 
  • Hellenic Police, Circular Order 71778/13/511278
  • Report of the European Committee for the Prevention of  Torture (CPT), Visit to Greece in April 2013, the CPT published a report dated 16 October 2014 (CPT/Inf (2014) 26), available here.
  • UNHCR, Position on Returns to the Syrian Arabic Republic, available here.
  • UNHCR,  International Protection Considerations with regard to people fleeing the Syrian Arab Republic, available here.
  • UNHCR,  International Protection Considerations with regard to people fleeing the Syrian Arab Republic, Update I, available here.
  • UNHCR,  International Protection Considerations with regard to people fleeing the Syrian Arab Republic, Update II, available here.
  • UNHCR Greece, Syrians in Greece: Protection Considerations and UNHCR Recommendations, available here.
Authentic Language: 
English
State Party: 
Greece
National / Other Legislative Provisions: 
Greece - Law No. 3386/2005 - Article 76
Greece - Law No. 3386/2005 - Article 83
Greece - Presidential Decree No. 114/2010 entitled ‘Refugee status: single procedure for foreigners and stateless persons’ - Art 13