Germany Rapped for Denying Asylum Seeker Turned Down by Norway

European Union immigration policy is standardized across all 27 member states, but Norway merely participates in many EU systems without being an official member of the bloc. 

Sykehustrappa is the Norwegian word for “sick house steps.” The sign appears in Longyearbyen, a small coal-mining town on Spitsbergen Island in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago known for its views of the Northern Lights. (Pixabay image via CNS)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Highlighting Norway’s status as one strongly connected to the EU yet not officially a member, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that member states cannot turn away asylum seekers out of hand if Norway has already rejected them.

The case stems from the 2008 application by an Iranian national for asylum in Norway. Identified in court documents as L.R., the man’s application was rejected in 2009 and he was turned over to Iranian authorities. In 2014, he applied for asylum again — this time in Germany — which rejected his application on the grounds that he’d already been rejected in Norway. 

Under the so-called Dublin Regulation, anyone seeking asylum is required to request it in the first EU country they physically enter. It is supposed to prevent migrants from asylum shopping throughout the 27-member bloc. 

As the EU’s high court underscored Thursday, however, Norway did authorize the Dublin Regulation but it is not a member state of the European Union. Rather, it is a member of the European Economic Area, which allows for the free movement of goods and services across borders. 

“An application for international protection made to a Member State cannot be classified as a ‘subsequent application’ if it has been made after a third State has refused to grant the applicant refugee status,” the Luxembourg-based court wrote. 

L.R. first contested Germany’s rejection, before the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Verwaltungsgericht, the Administrative Court in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, which referred the matter to the Court of Justice. 

According to the court’s Fourth Chamber, implementing the Dublin Regulation is not enough for Norway’s rejection to bar someone from applying for asylum in an EU member state. “It is clear from the unequivocal wording of the relevant provisions of [the Directive] that, as EU law currently stands, a third State cannot be treated in the same way as a Member State,” the court said. 

Germany had argued that it was unlikely someone rejected for asylum in Norway would be granted asylum in Germany, given that the immigration systems in both countries were similar. This argument failed, however, to sway the five-judge panel. “Even assuming that, as the referring court states, the Norwegian asylum system provides for a level of protection for asylum seekers equivalent to that laid down in Directive 2011/95, that fact cannot lead to a different conclusion,” the court wrote.  

In 2020 alone, 416,000 people applied for asylum in the European Union, down more than 30% from 2019 and down dramatically from the peak of the so-called Migrant Crisis, when new applications topped 1.3 million applications in 2015. Most of the applicants are from Syria, Afghanistan, Colombia or Venezuela. 

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