Tuesday

16th Oct 2018

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"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.

Austria EU presidency seeks 'mandatory solidarity' on Dublin

EU interior ministers are meeting in Luxembourg this Friday to discuss migration. The Austrian EU presidency is hoping to reach a consensus on Dublin reforms and a concept of 'mandatory solidarity' after briefing 27 EU states bilaterally over the summer.

Libyan militia cash in on EU's anti-smuggling strategy

More people in Libya are being inducted into slavery as people-traffickers try to monetise their investment by selling them. A senior UN refugee agency official described it as an unintended side effect of the reduction of migrant boat departures.

Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate

Issues of sovereignty remain entrenched following a proposal by the European Commission to expand the EU's border and coast guard, also known as Frontex, to 10,000. But EU leaders maintain a "basic consensus" of support had been reached.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Latest News

  1. EU ministers struggle to deal with Poland and Hungary
  2. Commission tried to hide details of 'WiFi4EU' glitch
  3. Brexit standoff continues before EU summit
  4. ASEM: Global Partners for Global Challenges
  5. How Juncker's 'do less' group concluded EU should not do less
  6. Cyprus and Russia: Association of Cyprus Banks responds
  7. Orthodox church split just tip of Putin's crumbling 'soft power' in Ukraine
  8. Daily reality in Western Sahara - and how EU can protect it

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us