Belgium Faulted for Denying Visas to Syrian Refugees

(CN) – A European Court of Justice adviser said Tuesday that EU states have an obligation to issue visas for humanitarian reasons when asylum seekers risk torture or worse if they return to their home nations.

Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi’s advisory opinion for the EU high court stems from the case of a family of Syrian refugees who fled Aleppo for the Belgium embassy in Lebanon. The family applied for visas to travel to Belgium with the goal of seeking asylum once they were safely in the EU.

The family – all Orthodox Christians – say they have been targeted and persecuted in Syria because of their beliefs, and an armed group kidnapped and tortured one of the family members before releasing them for ransom.

Belgian officials denied the family’s visa application, finding that their intention of seeking asylum meant they intended to remain in Belgium beyond the 90 days allowed under the visa. Furthermore, the officials said no EU member states are required to issue visas to people facing danger in their home nations.

The family appealed to Belgium’s asylum and immigration board, which sent an expedited request to the EU high court for its interpretation on visa law – whether it applies to the family – and the constitutional guarantees of the right to asylum and prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment.

In his opinion for the court, Mengozzi said the visa law – and therefore all EU law and constitutional guarantees – apply to the Syrian family, given the situation they face if forced to return to Aleppo.

Specifically, Mengozzi said Belgium is required to issue visas to the family on humanitarian grounds since they face a serious risk of torture and inhuman treatment in Syria, regardless of whether the family has ties to Belgium. Failing to do so would not only expose the family to further torture because their religious beliefs, but would also deprive them of their human right to seek international protection in Belgium.

Mengozzi’s opinion for the European Court of Justice – which was only made available in French – is purely advisory and is not binding on the high court, which has begun its own deliberations in the case.

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