by Teresa Alves, masters' student at University of Minho
The judgment in Case C-638/16 PPU, delivered by the Court of Justice of the European Union, on 7th March 2017[i] could represent a milestone in the history of the European Union, opening the door to an important legal path of access to international protection in the Member States and improving the Europe’s asylum policy. Particularly in a context of migration crisis that the European Union is trying to solve, adopting different measures. These measures include strengthening border controls, preventing human trafficking and trying to dismantle illegal forms of access to Member States’ borders through organized networks. Another measure is the EU-Turkey Statement that, despite some legal doubts, intends, not only, but also, to create a legal path of access to international protection in the Member States.
The story dates back to October 2016, when a Syrian family (mother, father – married to one another – and their three young children, from Aleppo) applied for a humanitarian visa at the embassy of Belgium in Lebanon. They hoped, with this, to legally enter in Belgium and to request asylum. They claimed that one of them had been abducted by an armed group, beaten and tortured, before being released on payment of a ransom. They emphasized, specially, the deterioration of the security situation in Syria, in general, and in Aleppo, in particular, as well as the fact that, as Orthodox Christians, they were at risk of persecution because of their religious beliefs. This family added that they could not register as refugees in neighboring countries, particularly in view of the fact that the Lebanese-Syrian border had been closed in the meantime.
The competent Belgian authorities promptly rejected the request, explaining that (i) the applicants planned to remain in Belgium for more than 90 days, and under the Visas Code, in accordance with Article 1, the issue of transit visas or visas within the territory of the Member States shall not exceed 90 days in a period of 180 days; (iii) in addition, Article 3 of the ECHR, according to which «no one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment», shall not require States Parties to admit «persons living a catastrophic situation» and, lastly, they considered that (iii) Belgian diplomatic posts are not part of the authorities to which a foreigner may apply for asylum. For the reason that, authorizing an entry visa to the applicants in the main proceedings, for the purpose of submitting an application for asylum in Belgium, would be equivalent to allowing them to request this application for asylum in the diplomatic post.
The family appealed against the decision before the Conseil du Contentieux des Étrangers (Council for asylum and immigration proceedings, Belgium), which decided to refer to the Court of Justice questions relating to the granting of humanitarian visas. That is, «must Article 25(1)(a) of the Visa Code be interpreted as meaning that, subject to its discretion with regard to the circumstances of the case, a Member State to which an application for a visa with limited territorial validity has been made is required to issue the visa applied for, where a risk of infringement of Article 4 and/or Article 18 of the Charter or another international obligation by which it is bound is established?», «Does the existence of links between the applicant and the Member State to which the visa application was made (for example, family connections) affect the answer to that question?».
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