EU Court Thwarts Refugees’ Bid to Stay in Germany

FILE – In this June 23, 2017, file photo, Italian border police officers escort sub-Saharan men on their way to a relocation center, after arriving in the Golfo Azzurro rescue vessel at the port of Augusta, in Sicily, Italy, with hundreds of migrants aboard, rescued by members of Proactive Open Arms NGO. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti, file)

(CN) – The European Court of Justice set a high bar Tuesday for asylum seekers looking to stay in Germany, ruling only the likelihood of extreme poverty – not mere inadequacies in a member state’s social system – would warrant granting the refugees’ request.

Tuesday’s preliminary ruling by the EU high court involves cases filed by numerous asylum seekers who entered the EU in states other than Germany but made their way there and are now fighting removal. In general, the state in which the refugee entered must also handle the asylum request and the refugee is required to remain there.

But a Gambian national who entered the EU in Italy says he shouldn’t be sent back there because there are deficiencies in the way Italy handles the asylum procedure and migrants are treated poorly even when they’re granted asylum. Similarly, stateless Palestinians who fled the Syrian civil war and were granted asylum in Bulgaria – and a Russian national who claims to be Chechen who won asylum in Poland – say they should be allowed to make a life in Germany because of poor treatment in the states of entry.

The German courts hearing the migrants’ cases asked the EU high court whether the potential for degrading or inhuman treatment warrants granting their request to remain in Germany. Specifically, the court hearing the Gambian national’s case pointed to a 2016 Swiss Refugee Council report that asylum seekers in Italy run the risk of being homeless and destitute because of shortcomings in Italy’s integration system. For the others, they claim the government assistance they receive isn’t enough to live on – even though they’re not treated differently than nationals on public assistance – and they’re likely to suffer as a result.

In its ruling, the Luxembourg-based high court noted there are instances when refugees may be able to show a risk of inhuman or degrading treatment if they’re removed to the state of entry or to the state that granted their asylum request. But the threshold is high, the court said.

“That particularly high level of severity is attained where the indifference of the authorities of a member state would result in a person wholly dependent on state support finding himself, irrespective of his wishes and personal choices, in a situation of extreme material poverty that does not allow him to meet his most basic needs, such as food, personal hygiene and a place to live, and that undermines his physical or mental health or puts him in a state of degradation incompatible with human dignity,” the court wrote in a 12-page opinion.

Even a high degree of insecurity or “significant degradation of living conditions” doesn’t meet the threshold unless it entails extreme material poverty, the high court said.

The EU high court tackled a different immigration question in a second ruling Tuesday, this one involving a Moroccan national on a bus from Spain to France. The man had previously been expelled from France, and authorities checking the bus at the Spain-France border detained him on that basis.

Fighting a removal order in the French courts, the man claimed his detention violated the EU’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of movement. He said checking the bus at an internal border in the Schengen area essentially turned the border between Spain and France into an external border. The incident occurred when France had temporarily closed its borders due to terrorist activities and threats.

In its ruling, the EU high court said the returns directive – which France relied on to detain the man at its border with Spain and to order his removal – only applies to the EU’s external borders. A member state declaring its internal border with another member state closed – no matter how serious the reason – does not turn the internal border into an external one, the court said.

France therefore can’t rely on the returns directive to remove the man from the EU, the court said.

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