21st Mar 2018

EU court to rule on humanitarian visas

  • Syrian refugees in Austria. Humanitarian visa rules differ from one country to the other. (Photo: Josh Zakary)

Is an EU country obliged to grant humanitarian visas to people who are not yet on its territory?

The answer to that question will be decided by the European Court of Justice after a Belgian body filed a case in an emergency procedure, it emerged this weekend.

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The foreigners' claims council in Belgium has asked for an EU court ruling in the case of a Syrian family of four who filed a request for a three-month humanitarian visa in the Belgian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.

The family requested a visa to go to Namur, where a family is ready to welcome them.

The Belgian government has so far refused to grant visas to the family.

On 20 October, the foreigners' claims council ruled that the visa should be granted. Last Wednesday (7 December), a court of appeal upheld the council's decision and said the Belgian government would have to pay €1,000 per member of the family and per day until it abided by the decision.

Belgian interior minister Theo Francken, from the Flemish nationalist N-VA party, insisted over the weekend that "the visa will not be delivered", however.

He said that doing so would create a "dangerous precedent" and would make Belgium "lose control" of its borders.

"It threatens to start an influx in front of our consulates in Beirut and Ankara," said.

On Sunday, Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said that he would not "open the door to humanitarian visas all over the world, allowing visa requests even when there is no link with Belgium."

The foreigners' claims council argues that the government should grant a visa to the family on the basis of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The government, a coalition of Liberals, Christian-Democrats and Flemish nationalists, says that the convention cannot be applied in the Middle East.

The EU Court of Justice is expected to rule on the case in three to five months and its decision will set a legal precedent for EU countries.

For now, the decision to grant humanitarian visas depends on national law and criteria are not harmonised through the EU.

A humanitarian visa does not guarantee refugee status, but people holding it can file an asylum request is any country of the Schengen area after they arrive in the EU.

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