Greece told by European Court to pay damages to 42 migrants in human rights case

The European Court of Human Rights (UCHR) ordered Greece on Thursday to pay damages totaling thousands of euros to dozens of migrants who worked as fruit pickers in strawberry farms in Manolada, Elia, saying the State had failed to prevent human trafficking and protect them.

The Court held that Greece was to pay each of the applicants who had participated in the proceedings before the assize court 16,000 euros, and each of the other applicants 12,000 euros in respect of all the damage sustained, plus 4,363.64 euros to the applicants jointly in respect of costs and expenses.

The case concerned 42 Bangladeshi nationals who did not have work permits and were subjected to forced labour. Their employers had recruited them from October 2012 to February 2013 to pick strawberries on a farm promising them a wage of 22 euros for seven hours’ work and three euros for each hour of overtime.

Their employers obliged them to work in difficult physical conditions under the supervision of armed guards and failed to pay the applicants’ wages. When the workers requested their unpaid wages they were shot at by foremen.

The two employers, together with the guard who had opened fire and an armed overseer, were arrested and tried for attempted murder – subsequently reclassified as grievous bodily harm – and also for trafficking in human beings. In July 2014, the assize court acquitted them of the charge of trafficking in human beings, convicted the armed guard and one of the employers of grievous bodily harm and unlawful use of firearms but their prison sentences were commuted to a financial penalty.

“The Court found, firstly, that the applicants’ situation was one of human trafficking and forced labour, and specified that exploitation through labour was one aspect of trafficking in human beings,” the court said in its ruling.

It also held that the State had failed to conduct an effective investigation into the offences committed and to punish those responsible for the trafficking.

Commenting on the ruling, Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis said it shows “the situation which prevailed in the country” during the coalition government of New Democracy and PASOK.

He said SYRIZA had warned since then about the disgraceful situation in which the migrants lived and the country’s upcoming conviction and had asked to change the employment status and living conditions of foreign workers. “Unfortunately we were not heard so now the country was accused and convicted.”

Kontonis said the responsibilities of ND and PASOK go beyond the usual political responsibilities because the international condemnation hurts the country’s “national dignity”, for which ND and PASOK systematically ignore.