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EU court rules Syrian man must be reunited with child in Belgium

The European Union's high court said a Syrian refugee granted asylum in Austria must be allowed to move to Belgium so he can look after his minor daughter.

(CN) — European authorities must allow refugees to move between European Union countries so they can be with unaccompanied minor children, the bloc's top court ruled Tuesday.

Sitting as a grand chamber, the European Court of Justice issued its decision in a case involving a Syrian refugee who was granted asylum in Austria but who wants to be united with a daughter who is a minor and without a parent in Belgium. Another adult daughter also lives in Belgium.

The high court said a minor child’s best interests must be regarded in the context of EU human rights and asylum laws.

“Family unity must be maintained where that applicant is the father of a child who is an unaccompanied minor” who's been granted protection in another EU state, the court said in a news release.

However, in other cases not involving unaccompanied minors, EU states can look at denying refugees the possibility to move between states, the court said.

The ruling was more restrictive than an advisory opinion issued last September by Advocate General Priit Pikamae, an Estonian legal adviser at the Court of Justice, that applied a more refugee-friendly approach to the question of refugees moving between countries to be with family. In his opinion, Pikamae saw family unification as being essential not only in cases related to unaccompanied children.

The Syrian refugee at the center of this dispute arrived in Europe among hundreds of thousands of Syrians who fled a devastating civil war in their home country and were given asylum in Europe. Court documents did not include the Syrian national’s personal details — including his name and age — but said he arrived in Austria after traveling through Libya and Turkey.

In the meantime, his daughters also fled Syria and got to Belgium in early 2016 and were granted asylum there that December. After their arrival in Belgium, he moved there to be with his daughters.

But Belgian authorities said he could not be given refugee status in Belgium because Austria had already given him protection.

In throwing out his application in 2019, Belgium’s Council for Asylum and Immigration Proceedings cited EU laws that allow a refugee’s application for international protection to be rejected if that person has already been given asylum in another EU country or in a non-EU country deemed safe.

Belgian authorities also argued both he and his daughters enjoyed asylum protection in their respective countries.

But he challenged Belgium’s decision, arguing that EU and international laws protect his right as a refugee to live with his daughters and maintain his family life.

He took his case to Belgium’s Council of State, a high court for administrative disputes. The council asked the Court of Justice in Luxembourg for a ruling on the matter.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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