Today the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), delivered its judgment in the case of an Afghan family who were held in the transit zone for 209 days in 2017. The Court found that the familiy had been unlawfully detained under inhuman conditions.
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The transit zones were closed in May 2020, following the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that qualified placement over 28 days in the transit zone as detention. That judgment fit into the broad professional consensus among key human rights bodies, all finding that placement in the two land border transit zones in Hungary constituted deprivation of liberty. The ECtHR today, following its previous judgment in the case of an Afghan-Iranian family once again joined this international consensus.
The Afghan family
The Afghan family with four children had been detained in the Röszke transit zone for 209 days by the Hungarian authorities. The father, M.B.K. had worked for an American company in Afghanistan. When his colleague had been killed by the Taliban and he himself had been beaten by them leaving life-long injuries the family, who belongs to the Hazara minority decided to flee the country. They had been waiting in Serbia for nine months to enter the transit zone to submit their asylum application.
The transit zone consisted of metal containers which became extremely hot during the summer. With no shade and no means of ventilation, the family spent a hot summer crammed into a small metal container with their four children. The father received no medical help for his injuries, the school-age children had no access to education for five months. One of their children on the other hand was used for interpreting in the medical section of the transit zone to other families by the authorities. The Afghan girl had been severely traumatized by having to witness asylum-seekers being handcuffed, among them pregnant women, when they were transported to a hospital outside the transit zone.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee intervened at the European Court of Human Rights in the Afghan family’s case asking the ECtHR to issue interim measures to prevent the continuation of inhuman treatment for the family and their children. Although the ECtHR ordered the Hungarian authorities to provide appropriate conditions for the family, alternatively in another reception facility, they were released from detention only after receiving their asylum decision, eventually acknowledging their need for protection. The Afghan family was granted refugee status and they no longer live in Hungary.
In today’s judgment, the Court found that Hungary had unlawfully detained the entire family and that the conditions of detention for the children amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment therefore awarded the family EUR 17 000 as just satisfaction.
“We welcome the judgment. While the ruling of the Court does not erase the traumatic memory of 209 days spent in detention, it does confirm that what the detained children and their parents experienced as inhuman is in fact considered inhuman according to the law. The judgment is also important in a more general sense, because the Court has once again aligned itself with the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union issued in May 2020, which declared that placement in transit zones qualifies as detention, and moreover as unlawful detention. This can give hope to the many clients of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee who are still awaiting the Court’s decision in their pending cases” – said Barbara Pohárnok, attorney of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the legal representative of the Afghan family.