23 October 2015

In the first judgment on the issue of risk of danger to life or ill-treatment in the context of the Syrian conflict, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found that the forced return of the three asylum applicants to Syria would violate their right to life (Article 2) and lead to a real risk of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3) under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The case related to two Syrian nationals and a stateless Palestinian from Syria who were arrested in 2014 for administrative offences of breaching immigration rules and working without a permit. They claimed asylum stating that they feared for their lives in Syria and providing information on the ongoing conflict. A Russian court ordered their expulsion to Syria, and their detention, pending deportation. Their appeal was rejected, but an interim measure from the ECtHR prevented their deportation until it had considered the matter.

The Court noted that this was its first judgment on this issue, partly due to the fact that most European countries did not carry out forced returns to Syria, which were suspended in practice for all Syrian nationals, with most asylum applicants receiving positive decisions. In view of international reports and individual information presented by the applicants relating to the risk they would face if they returned, their allegations that expulsion to Syria would breach Articles 2 and 3 ECHR were well-founded. It found the approach of the Russian courts ‘particularly regretful’ as it had failed to adequately assess the risk of ill-treatment in Syria, focusing instead on establishing that the applicants’ presence in Russia was illegal.

The Court also found a violation of their right to liberty under Article 5 ECHR, considering that their detention became unlawful from May 2014 when no real action had or could be taken to carry out their deportation, also finding that there was no procedure by which they could challenge the lawfulness of their detention in national law. The Court ordered the immediate release of the applicants from detention, who had been unlawfully detained for almost 18 months.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 23 October 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.