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13th Jun 2021

EU states on hook for humanitarian visas

  • The non-binding opinion would allow people from war-torn countries new ways to enter the EU. (Photo: Khairil Zhafri)

EU states are required to issue humanitarian visas to people at risk of torture or inhumane treatment, according to an advocate general at the European Court of Justice.

The non-binding opinion published on Tuesday (7 February) challenges a Belgian government decision to refuse visas to a family of Syrian refugees from the besieged city of Aleppo.

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  • Belgian minister Francken: 'This is not a final decision.' (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The opinion would allow people from war-torn countries new ways to enter the EU without having to rely on smugglers to reach a member state.

Advocate general Paolo Mengozzi's opinion is not binding but is likely to factor into the final verdict of the Luxembourg-court in a few weeks’ time.

He said a "member state is required to issue a visa on humanitarian grounds in a situation where there is a serious risk of breach" of the charter of fundamental rights.

The Syrians, who are Orthodox Christians, had applied for visas at the Belgian embassy in Beirut last October.

They say their Christian faith put them at greater risk of persecution.

When Belgium rejected the application, the family launched a legal challenge.

Belgian immigration minister Theo Francken has staunchly opposed their entry into the country.

In a separate case, the Flemish nationalist in November said he preferred to pay the government daily fines of some €4,000 rather than honour a Belgian court order to issue a family of Syrians tourist visas. 

Acquaintances in Belgium had offered them accommodation but he said granting the visas would encourage many others to do the same.

"We have managed the asylum crisis well and things are under control. We are really not going to throw our gates open wide through our embassies and consulates," he said in November.

Francken remained steadfast in his objections on Tuesday following Mengozzi's verdict.

"His opinion is not binding. This is not a final decision," he was quoted as saying in Le Soir, a Belgian daily.

EU court to rule on humanitarian visas

The European Court of Justice will examine the case of a Syrian family who wants to go to Belgium. Its decision will apply to all EU countries.

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Greece has declared Turkey a safe country for asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Syria and Somalia. But the European Commission appears to have shed doubt on the claim, saying individual cases still need to be assessed.

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