The European Court of Human Rights Unanimously Condemns the Greek Government for Depriving an HIV-positive Asylum Seeker From Access to Antiretroviral Treatment

ATHENS — On October 5, 2023, the European Court of Human Rights published its judgement on E.F. v. Greece, the case of an HIV-positive woman who developed highly aggressive HIV-related blood cancer which spread to her cervix, as a result of the Greek authorities’ acts and omissions.

E.F. is a victim of torture from Cameroon, who contracted HIV in her country of origin as a result of rape, and was under antiretroviral treatment. When she arrived in Moria camp in December 2019, she was asymptomatic. However, and although it was known to the authorities that no antiretroviral treatment was available in Lesvos, E.F. was forced to remain on the island under the measure of “geographical restriction”, also known as “containment policy”. Although her transfer to a hospital in Athens was eventually ordered in March 2020, E.F. remained stranded on the island of Lesvos, due to the authorities’ significant and unjustified delays in processing her transfer out of the camp. In May, she was inexplicably transferred to Polykastro camp, which had no doctor on site. Despite the continuous and significant deterioration of her health, it was only after she fainted in the camp that she was able to access medical treatment on 23 June 2020, 6 months after her arrival in Greece.

As a result of the discontinuation of her antiretroviral treatment, E.F.’s illness progressed from HIV to AIDS, and she developed advanced HIV-related highly aggressive blood cancer, which spread to her cervix, putting her life at risk.

At the same time, while living in Moria camp, E.F. had to sleep on a bed frame with no mattress and no bedsheets, with no heating, power supply or ventilation, no access to toilet, to hot water for shower or special diet for her condition. Due to the continuous sexual harassment and assaults in the camp, E.F. and her roommates had to urinate in buckets inside the container. While in Polykastro camp, she had to sleep on the floor, in filthy conditions, with no social distancing measures. The medical services of the camp did not have a French interpreter and, hence, her medical condition had, against her will, become known to the other asylum seekers who were used as interpreters instead.

The European Court of Human Rights resolved that, in view of the fact that E.F. was dependent on the camp authorities for her medical follow-up, its jurisprudence regarding sick persons in detention was applicable in her case as well. Therefore, the Court found that the 6-month delay in ensuring E.F.’s access to treatment as required by her state of health must be considered as entirely attributable to the Greek authorities. The Court also rejected the Government’s argument that the delays were attributable to the COVID-19 prevention measures, as E.F.’s transfer to appropriate treatment had been ordered before the closure of the competent offices. According to the Strasbourg Court, the authorities of both the Moria and Polykastro camps did not act with due diligence, as they failed to take, before June 23, 2020, all the measures that could reasonably be expected of them in order to protect the applicant’s health. They have, therefore, exposed her to inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of Art. 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In addition, the Court found that E.F. had no effective remedy that would have allowed her to challenge the ill-treatment to which she had been subjected, in violation of Art. 13 of the Convention.

The Court rejected E.F.’s complaint that her living conditions in the camps also amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, for lack of sufficient evidence.

In view of the above findings, the Court held that Greece is to pay a total of 10,000 euros in respect of the non-pecuniary damage sustained by E.F.

Following the publication of the Court’s judgement, E.F. gave the following statement:

“I am very happy that we have continued to fight and won despite the mistreatment and negligence that I have been subjected to in Moria camp. I arrived sick and made every effort to get treatment, but I was not taken seriously until it was too late, and I developed cancer.

This money will not buy my health back, but it will maybe help ease me, take care of myself, and see the future in a different way.

I still cannot believe it. It has been three years and I had lost hope. I am relieved that we kept on fighting and did not do all this for nothing. It means some people still care and listen to what we have to say. Had they believed me in time, it would have spared me a lot. I hope this will prevent others from suffering the same fate. I am, myself, condemned but I have to accept it.”

E.F. was represented before the European Court of Human Rights by HIAS Greece. Special thanks go to the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) for their Expert Opinion in support of E.F.’s complaints.

The AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), DCR (Dutch Council for Refugees) and ECRE (European Council on Refugees and Exiles) submitted a joint third-party intervention in this case.

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