10 July 2015
In a judgment delivered this week, the European Court of Human Rights held that the conditions of extreme poverty faced by a Serbian family of asylum seekers following their eviction from an accommodation centre in Belgium amounted to degrading treatment, contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
In 2011, the family of seven had been left without means of subsistence following an order to leave the country for France under the Dublin II Regulation, and were living on the streets for four weeks in conditions of extreme poverty. They had applied to the Belgium Council of Aliens Law Litigation (CALL) for the suspension and setting aside of the decision ordering their expulsion, and had further applied for leave to remain on medical grounds on behalf of their eldest daughter, who had cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and hypotonia. Their appeal had not had a suspensive effect against the return order, resulting in the withdrawal of all material support for the family. Consequently the family returned to Serbia, where their eldest daughter became ill and died.
The Court found that CALL had not taken into account the specific vulnerability of the family, and that the Belgian authorities had failed in their obligation to not expose the applicants to degrading treatment. It stated that the family had need of special protection due to their particular vulnerability, especially considering the very young age of some of the children, including a new-born and the specific needs of the handicapped child.
It was also decided that the family had not been able to seek an effective remedy before the Belgian courts – in violation of Article 13 ECHR – since they had been unable to have their fears about exposure to degrading and inhuman treatment in Serbia examined prior to their departure from Belgium.