Thursday

27th Apr 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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.

Fewer refugees to be relocated as EU revises targets

An initial plan to relocate 160,000, which was later amended to 98,000, now appears to drop even further after the European Commission said the new objective was to dispatch only eligible asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.

EU stands aside as Hungary detains migrants

Commission is withholding action on Hungary's detention of asylum seekers, even as the Hungarian government tries to "stop Brussels" on immigration policy.

Austria wants out of EU migrant relocations

Austria is required to start relocating asylum seekers from Italy and Greece after an exemption to the scheme ended on 11 March. But Austria's chancellor has other ideas and wants the exemption prolonged.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  3. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  4. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  5. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  6. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  7. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  8. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  10. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  11. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  12. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children

Latest News

  1. EU agency stuck with London rent bill
  2. EU anti-fraud office ditches Martin Schulz probe
  3. Commission launches bid to make Europe social
  4. MEPs act to strip Le Pen of immunity in fake jobs case
  5. EU starts legal action against Hungary
  6. Brexit is about Europe's future as well
  7. Power struggle in Greenland: Three reasons why the EU should care
  8. Nordic and Baltic countries step up digitalisation efforts