(CN) - EU member states can't place restrictions on where refugees who receive public assistance can live except to better integrate them into society, the European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday.
Though the case involves Syrian refugees who were granted asylum years ago, Tuesday's ruling by the EU high court could have sweeping implications as Europe faces one of the worst refugee crises in its history.
Two Syrian nationals who were granted refugee status - and public assistance - in Germany challenged that government's residence restrictions, which were a condition of receiving benefits. The residence restrictions were specific, too: one of the refugees could only live in the town of Ahlen, while the other was forced to live in the Hanover region but not in the capital of Lower Saxony.
The German court hearing the cases asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on whether the residence conditions were legal under EU law.
In its preliminary ruling Tuesday, the Luxembourg-based high court noted that EU law gives refugees the same rights as other legal residents to move freely and choose where they wish to live - regardless of whether they receive public assistance.
The high court noted potential concerns that without residence conditions for welfare recipients a region's financial resources might be overrun. But the court said EU law does not allow such restrictions for the sole purpose of equally distributing the welfare burden through a member state.
In fact, the court ruled that the only time residence restrictions might be justified is if a refugee receiving public assistance faces greater difficulties integrating into the member state's society than a comparable non-citizen legal resident.
The German court must make a determination if that condition applies to the two refugees at issue here, the EU high court concluded.
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