The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of a group of 42 Bangladeshi migrants in a human trafficking and forced labour case dating back to 2013 when the strawberry farm workers were shot at by their employers for demanding wages.
In a Chamber judgement yesterday (Mar 30) in the case of Chowdury and Others v. Greece (application no. 21884/15), the ECHR ruled there had been violations against the migrant workers who were subject to forced labour and not protected by the Greek state.
In the landmark ruling, the court has ordered the Greek state to pay €16,000 (£13,750) to each Bangladeshi national involved in the proceedings for damages sustained, plus €4,363 to the applicants to cover expenses.
The applicants are Bangladeshi nationals living in Greece who were recruited to pick fruit on a farm in Manolada in southern Peloponnese, between October 2012 and February 2013. They did not have work permits and had been promised €22 (£25.70) for each seven-hour shift, plus €3 (£3.51) per hour overtime.
Working daily from 7am until 7pm under the supervision of armed guards, the Bangladeshis eventually confronted their employers after they had not been paid and were forced to live in makeshift shacks without toilet facilities or running water.
Between 100 and 150 workers from the 2012-2013 season started to move towards their employers during the demonstration, when suddenly one of the armed guards opened fire, seriously injuring 30 workers, including 21 of the applicants.
Four were severely injured, one man spent three days in intensive care and many were incapable of working for months afterwards. Others who were wounded were taken to hospital and questioned by police.
Later the two employers and the guard who fired the shots were arrested and prosecuted for attempted murder, a charge that was later lessened to grievous bodily harm, and also human trafficking offences.
However, during an assize court hearing in July 2014 all three defendants were acquitted of the human trafficking charge. The armed guard and one of the employers was convicted of grievous bodily harm and unlawful use of firearms, but their prison sentences were reduced to a fine and they were also ordered to pay €1,500 to the 35 workers who had been recognised as victims.
That amounted to just €43 per person.
In October 2014 the workers requested an appeal against the assize court judgement arguing that the charge of human trafficking had not been examined properly, but this was dismissed.
Then in April 2015 the group lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights claiming that they had been subjected to forced compulsory labour and the Greek State had failed to protect them from being subjected to human trafficking.
A release issued by the ECHR yesterday, says: “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 then held that the State had failed in its obligations to prevent the situation of human trafficking, to protect the victims, to conduct an effective investigation into the offences committed and to punish those responsible for the trafficking.”
Following the ruling yesterday, Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director ,Gauri van Gulik, said how important this case had been, not only as vindication for the victims and their families, but to prevent future abuses.
“Amnesty International met the migrant workers in 2013 and interviewed them about the exploitation they were subjected to. We saw for ourselves their appalling living conditions,” he said.
“Four years have passed since the horrendous incident, and action is long overdue to ensure forced labour and human trafficking is prevented and identified, and that perpetrators are brought to justice.”
A Bangladeshi worker who was interviewed at Manolada by Amnesty International shortly after the incident in 2013, said: “They hit us and said, ‘We will kill you.’ Three of them were shooting at us while the others beat us with sticks. The shooting went on for more than 20 minutes.”