Wednesday

18th Oct 2017

EU court delivers blow to asylum seekers

  • The Syrian family came from war torn Aleppo (Photo: Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)

People seeking safe passage for asylum in the EU suffered another blow, following a ruling by Europe's top court in Luxembourg.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Tuesday (7 March) that EU law was not applicable in a case that pitted a family of Christian Syrians against the Belgian state.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"This was the easiest way to kick the ball out of the playground, for sure," Tristan Wibault, the lawyer representing the Syrians in the case, told EUobserver.

The ECJ said that member states are not required under EU law to grant a humanitarian visa to people who want to enter their territory in order to then apply for asylum.

Belgium had last year refused visas to a Syrian couple and their three young children after they had submitted applications to the Belgian embassy in Beirut.

The family hails from Aleppo, a large city in Syria that had been relentlessly besieged by the forces of al-Assad's regime.

Wibault said the family is still in Syria. With the ECJ ruling against them, Wibault said their fate was now an issue that needs to be handled by Belgium's national courts.

"What that means for my clients, I don't know precisely," he said.

Belgium's immigration minister Theo Francken, a Flemish nationalist, had refused to grant visas to the Syrian family.

"NGOs wanted to open EU borders in embassies abroad, ECJ very clear: humanitarian visa are national competency," Francken said in a tweet following the judgment.

He also thanked the European Commission for supporting Belgium on the matter.

But Wibault accused Francken of double-speak.

He noted that the minister had, on the one hand, supported helping Christians from Syria, but then on the other had shown "no obligation or no responsibility whatsoever" to the fate of the Christian family in the latest judgment.

The ECJ judgment also comes as a surprise given that the advocate-general, in an opinion issued in February, said member states would be required to issue humanitarian visas.

The visas are viewed as a legal means for people to get safe passage towards EU states, instead of having to rely on smugglers.

Visa code reform and humanitarian visas

But the ruling is also likely to embolden other EU states to follow Belgium's lead and undermine efforts by the European Parliament to include humanitarian visas in broader visa code reforms.

Swedish Green MEP Bodil Valero, who is working on the issue, said there is a need for EU legislation on humanitarian visas.

"It is now for the governments of the EU member states to make sure this is reflected in EU law," she said in statement.

But the European Commission said it would not comment on the ECJ case and refused to take a stand on humanitarian visas.

"We will take a look at it, we will note it, I don't have a lot to say about that right now," chief EU commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels.

In an internal document, EU states in February described the EU Parliament's move to include humanitarian visas in the visa code reforms as a "red line".

Instead, on Tuesday, they backed moves to further tighten security by carrying out identity checks on everyone, including EU nationals, crossing into an EU external border.

NGOs are livid at the ECJ ruling.

Thomas Huddleston, at the Migration Policy Group in Brussels, said the decision is a missed opportunity.

"This ruling underlines the absurd impasse facing most potential asylum-seekers," he said, in a statement.

EU states on hook for humanitarian visas

EU states ought to grant humanitarian visas to people in need, an EU court advisor has said, after Belgium refused permits for a Christian family from Aleppo.

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.

Opinion

Big changes in EU migration governance

Despite public debate sometimes being on the wrong side of the fence, there have been a number of developments in tackling asylum and migration in Europe.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish Court declares Catalan referendum law void
  2. EU to keep 'Dieselgate' letter secret
  3. No deal yet on Mediterranean alliance for EU agencies
  4. EU Commission condemns Maltese journalist's murder
  5. Poland denies wrongdoing over forest logging
  6. Risk to asylum kids in EU increasing, says charity
  7. Schroeder warns of Turkey and Russia drifting towards China
  8. EU parliament wants equal pay for posted workers

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  2. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  6. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  7. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  8. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  9. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  10. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  12. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year

Latest News

  1. EU rejects UK claim it's slowing Brexit talks
  2. Nepal troops arrive in Libya to guard UN refugee agency
  3. Is Banking Authority HQ the Brexit 'booby prize'?
  4. EU-Russia trade bouncing back - despite sanctions
  5. No sign of Brexit speed-up after May-Juncker dinner
  6. EU defence strategy 'outsourced' to arms industry
  7. EU privacy rules tilt to industry, NGO says
  8. Malta in shock after car bomb kills crusading journalist