Protecting vulnerable asylum seekers during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on communities and individuals all over the world. For those who were already living in desperate situations, the pandemic has only worked to enhance their sense of vulnerability. This is particularly the case for the 3,100 asylum seekers currently living on the Samos island refugee camp.

Samos is one of the most over-populated refugee camps in Europe, home to many vulnerable individuals, including the elderly, pregnant women and children. In 2019, we formed a secondment program with Avocats sans Frontières France (ASF France) to support their work on Samos. ASF France have run a legal centre on the island since 2019, supporting thousands of asylum seekers.

Following the outbreak of the pandemic, it became essential to shift the focus of our work to filing urgent interim measure applications for vulnerable people. Many individuals living on the island tend to have more health problems due to the conditions in which they are forced to live. These measures allowed us to directly petition the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and bring their attention to cases where there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm.

Our efforts yielded a number of positive results. An example is our work assisting three young Syrian women living on the camp who were heavily pregnant and had insufficient access to food or water. Following the filing of the interim measure applications, the women were subsequently removed from the camp and provided with more suitable accommodation and access to healthcare. We have also helped a number of elderly and other vulnerable individuals. In recent months, the Greek authorities have also transferred hundreds of people from overcrowded camps on Greek islands (including Samos) to the mainland.

In the coming months, we will continue our work to support those living in Greek refugee camps. The firm recently signed a partnership with the Greek Council for Refugees to run a number of strategic cases before the ECtHR, with the aim of ensuring vulnerable individuals are offered more appropriate housing and access to healthcare.