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Refugee families seeking asylum for children win at EU high court

In a group of rulings handed down before a summer break, the European Court of Justice found German authorities wrongfully denied protection to asylum-seekers.

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — The European Union's top court expanded the rights of young asylum-seekers in four decisions released Monday.

The European Court of Justice found that children who turn 18 while their parents are applying for asylum are still eligible to be reunited, a child can apply for asylum in the country where she is born even though her parents have asylum in another EU country and member states can appeal asylum rejections in other countries.

The court looked at several cases where German authorities had denied visa applications from Syrian teenagers, separated from parents who had been granted asylum because they turned 18 while the applications were being processed.

The German embassy in Beruit denied family reunification visas to two Syrian teenagers whose families had been granted asylum in Germany in 2015. Both boys turned 18 in 2017 and German authorities said this made them ineligible for family reunification, despite the families having applied while the boys were still underage. The EU court concluded Germany had violated EU asylum law, ruling that since the children were still minors when the families were forced to flee Syria, they “constituted a nuclear family” and were eligible for family reunification.

Another Syrian teenager, who turned 18 while waiting to join her father in Germany, was denied a family reunification visa on the grounds that she became an adult before her father was granted asylum. German officials argued that she was able to live on her own in Turkey, but the European Court of Justice disagreed.

It cannot be “presumed that any family relationship between a parent and his or her child immediately ceases to exist as soon as the minor child reaches the age of majority,” the court wrote, siding with the now 23-year-old.

A Russian girl, meanwhile, won the right to apply for asylum in Germany, even though her parents had been granted asylum in Poland. The family is Chechen, a Muslim-minority group historically mistreated by Moscow.

The 7-year-old girl's parents and five older siblings were granted asylum by Warsaw in 2013 but then moved to Germany. Berlin denied the application, noting that under the so-called Dublin III Regulation, the family had already applied for and was granted asylum in another country. EU immigration law requires migrants to register as asylum-seekers in the first EU country they enter.

However, in a case lodged by Germany, the court found that the girl was not covered by her parents’ asylum protection and could therefore ask German officials for her own asylum status.

Finally, in the only refugee case Monday not involving Germany, the Luxembourg-based court concluded that Greece can demand an appeal of a take-charge request, where one EU country asks another to take responsibility for a refugee.

In 2019, a 17-year-old Egyptian national filed for asylum in Greece, asking to be reunited with his uncle who had been granted asylum in the Netherlands. Greece filed a take-charge request with the Netherlands but the Dutch government rejected the request, claiming that the family connection could not be verified. Greek authorities attempted to appeal the decision but were rebuffed by the Netherlands, which said EU asylum legislation did not allow for another country to challenge such decisions.

The uncle and nephew sued in a Dutch court, which referred the matter to the European Court of Justice. The court found that the teenager has the right to contest the decision, emphasizing that the Dutch authorities must take into account the child’s best interests.

In recent years, many EU countries have resisted taking in refugees, despite legal obligations requiring them to protect people fleeing persecution or harm in their own country. Half a million people claimed asylum in the EU in 2021, of which nearly half came from either Syria or Afghanistan.

Following Monday's rulings, the European Court of Justice is taking a summer recess until September.

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