European Court of Justice decision: no humanitarian visas – a loss for refugees, a win for traffickers

Photo by Gwenael Plaser

Yesterday, 07 March 2017, the European Court of Justice made its decision on humanitarian visas in the European Union and came to the conclusion that member states cannot be obliged to admit asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds, even if they are at risk of torture or inhuman treatment.

The court ruled on a on the case of a Syrian family of five from Aleppo. The family initially applied for a visa to Belgium at the Belgian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon but the Belgian Immigration Office refused the visa because it was clear that the family intended to overstay it. This decision was challenged by the family and brought before the Belgian Asylum and Immigration Board which led to the court battle at the European Court of Justice, as EEPA reported in early February.

Tuesday’s ruling goes against the advice of Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi. He argued Visa Codes are a matter of EU law which is bound to the fundamental rights laid down in the Charter. In the Advocate’s opinion, this meant that member states could not deny applicants if there was a confirmed danger for them to be subjected to inhumane or degrading treatment in their home countries.

The decision was particularly welcomed by Belgium’s migration minister, Theo Francken, who considered the ruling a win. According to Reuters he commented the verdict with “NGOs (non-governmental organizations) wanted to move the EU border to the embassies but the ECJ has reined them in. A good thing”.

This is representative of the current political climate and the fear of European leaders that a ruling in the favour of refugees would have caused a collapse of the current asylum system. “Had the court ruled otherwise, it would have been a huge, a massive problem,” said a diplomat in Brussels who is involved in EU migration policies, euronews reported.

For NGOs and human rights advocates this is another setback for EU’s commitment to human rights and for legal pathways that could have limited the death toll along migration routes.

“Today’s verdict is a sad day for the protection of refugees and a day of celebration for fortress builders and human traffickers,” said Karl Kopp of Pro Asyl, a German human rights group.

According to Carolus Grutters, senior researcher at the Centre for Migration Law at Radboud University in the Netherlands, with this ruling the EU again missed the chance to take down the profitable business of human traffickers. A ruling that had followed the Advocate General’s advice would have given asylum seekers the chance to appeal to EU embassies instead of leaving them with no other option than heading for boats from Libya or Turkey and risking their lives, Grutters told the BBC.