justice

European court rules Spain violated rights convention by expelling Sahrawis

Interior Ministry decided that asylum requests filed in 2012 by 30 refugees had no merits

Two Sahrawi refugees after their arrival in the Canary Islands in 2011.
Two Sahrawi refugees after their arrival in the Canary Islands in 2011.MÓNICA CEBERIO

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Spain violated an international rights treaty by trying to expel in 2012 a group of Sahrawi refugees who were seeking asylum after they illegally landed in the Canary Islands.

In a decision made public Tuesday, the justices in Strasbourg said that the Spanish High Court, along with the Interior Ministry, violated the European Human Rights Convention by refusing to study asylum requests filed by 30 Sahrawis, who claimed they were being persecuted by Moroccan authorities.

“The judges have handed down this ruling given the nonexistence within our legislation of an automatic process that stops the return of this kind of complainant until a decision on their case is definitive," said Paloma Favieres, a lawyer for the Spanish Commission for Refugee Assistance (Crear), which filed the complaint with the European court against the Spanish government.

They feared retaliation by Moroccan forces after police forcibly dismantled the Agdaym Izik camp in 2010

The 30 refugees arrived on the shores of the Canary Islands in rickety boats in two groups in 2011 and 2012. They claim they were fleeing Moroccan forces after police forcibly dismantled the Agdaym Izik camp on November 8, 2010 and feared retaliation if they were returned.

The High Court eventually upheld an Interior Ministry decision to deny their requests after deciding that they contained no merits. But Crear complained that Spain should have waited before ordering their return until they exhausted all their appeals.

The expulsion orders were canceled when the ECHR assumed jurisdiction in the case.

The ECHR ruled that Spain’s actions violated Article 13 of the convention, which states that persons whose rights are violated are guaranteed an effective remedy by a national authority.

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