Fundamental human rights of refugees and immigrants – Responsibility of the State

State responsibility for compensation for the death of immigrants and refugees – Carbon Monoxide poisoning in a tent in Moria refugee camp

Case history

In January 2017, in the midst of the largest immigration wave from Turkey towards Europe, via the eastern Greek islands, two asylum seekers, one from Syria and another from Egypt, died in their sleep due to toxic carbon monoxide inhalation in the Refugees’ Reception and Identification Center of Moria, on the island of Lesvos in Greece. The toxic gases were produced by improvised fires that the Moria camp asylum seekers used in order to survive in the extreme cold and snow weather conditions, while being obliged to live in summer-type tents, without heating and fully depending on the authorities for their basic living means. They died one after the other, at a week’s interval. It is noteworthy that, despite the death of the first, nothing was done to improve the conditions.

A very basic official investigation by the authorities took more than one year, at the end of which the Public Prosecutor in Lesvos island archived the case, not finding anyone responsible for the deaths.

The families of the two deceased asylum seekers brought civil claims for compensation against the Greek State in 2019, represented by Pavlakis – Moschos Law firm.

Both the Administrative First Instance Court and the Administrative Court of Appeals of Athens (decisions 842/2023 and 998/2023) found the Greek State liable for violation of art.2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and specifically the right to Life and for inhuman and degrading treatment, consisting in the failure to take measures and protect the asylum seekers against the cold, although they were not stricto sensu detained, but were totally depending on the facilities provided by the State. The Court held that the omission of the Greek authorities to provide the asylum seekers with adequate sheltering and heating means in the prevailing weather conditions, constituted violation of their human right to dignified living, housing and heating conditions, and of the duty of the States to protect and ensure the fundamental rights of asylum seekers to life and dignity, as these are imposed by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence and in general the international and national law.

The tents in the snow – Moria refugees’ camp, Greece- January 2017

The Administrative Court of Appeal of Athens held that:

  • By application of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and specifically article 2 which provides that: “1. The right to life of every person shall be protected by law (…)”, and Article 3 which provides that: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, and according to the relevant jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, <<the obligation to provide accommodation or decent material conditions to asylum seekers who lack the necessary resources is now part of the applicable positive law and is an obligation of the State concerned, on the basis of national legislation and EU, in particular the ‘Reception Directive’.>>
  • By application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union which is legally binding in accordance with Article 6 para. 1 of the Treaty on European Union, as amended by Article 1 of the Treaty of Lisbon of 13.12.2007, “Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected“, and “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Furthermore, according to steady jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice <<the respect for human dignity (…) requires that a person who is wholly dependent on State assistance, irrespective of his will and personal choices, must not be placed in a situation of extreme material deprivation which would prevent him from meeting his most basic needs, such as housing, food, clothing and personal cleanliness, and which would therefore harm his physical or mental health or subject him to a situation of humiliation incompatible with his dignity.>>

Furthermore, the Court ruled that <>

See the relevant article of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini at the link


For the full text of the Athens Administrative Court of Appeals decisions 842/2023 and 998/2023 see NOMOS legal database nr. 840546 and nr. 840550.