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Mass shooting of strawberry pickers leads to ongoing reforms

Chowdury and Others v. Greece  | 2017

Mass shooting of strawberry pickers leads to ongoing reforms

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

One of the victims of the attack, as reported by Amnesty International - © Photo Amnesty International

Background

Hundreds of Bangladeshi workers were recruited to pick strawberries on a farm in Manolada, Greece. They had been promised a wage of 22 euros per day. For months they worked without pay, under the supervision of armed guards, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day.

The workers went on strike, demanding payment of their wages. Their employers refused, threatening them with detention and deportation. The employers then recruited new migrants. The old workers feared they would never be paid. 100 to 150 workers started approaching their employers to demand their wages. One of the armed guards opened fire and seriously injured 30 workers.

The employers and two armed guards were arrested and charged. However, they were acquitted of human trafficking and only convicted of grievous bodily harm and unlawful use of firearms. They were ordered to pay damages to some of the workers – but only amounting to 43 euros for each victim.

Over 40 of the workers brought their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The court ruled that the workers had been victims of human trafficking and forced labour. The Greek authorities had known about their situation, as it had featured in the media and parliamentary debates. Nevertheless, no effective measures had been taken to address it.

The government had failed in its obligations to prevent human trafficking and forced labour, to protect the victims, to conduct an effective investigation and to punish those responsible. Although there were laws to address these problems, the practical measures carried out had been insufficient.

I think I'd like to go home now. My family want me back. But what has happened is an injustice and I can't carry it around forever. … It is a wrong that has to be put right first.

Tipu Chowdhury, quoted by The Guardian

Follow-up

The applicants were each awarded between 12,000 and 16,000 euros in damages.

After the events, Greece later ratified the Council of Europe convention on human trafficking, passed EU anti-trafficking legislation and created a National Rapporteur to address the issue. The Rapporteur prepared a national action plan for the years 2018-2023, including measures to prevent forced labour, protect victims, investigate allegations and punish wrongdoers.

However, the Council of Europe’s expert group against human trafficking (GRETA) has found that further practical steps need to be taken to address forced labour and human trafficking in Greece. The Council of Europe continues to monitor the issue.