European Court of Justice: “Humanitarian visa obligation not enforceable”

7 March 2017
European Court of Justice: “Humanitarian visa obligation not enforceable”

The European Court of Justice has ruled that State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken is correct across the board in his position regarding the legal procedure that came about after a Syrian family wished to travel to Belgium with a humanitarian visa in order to request asylum here. A Belgian judge had previously ordered the State Secretary to deliver such a visa. However, the European judges have now ruled, in line with Theo Francken, that the issuing of a short-term visa on humanitarian grounds is a gesture of goodwill, not a right. As a result, the obligation is not enforceable. “Fortunately, common sense has prevailed,” says Theo Francken. “Europe has just avoided a huge disaster in the form of an uncontrollable new migration channel.”

The previous ruling of the Belgian court meant that the entire European asylum system was in jeopardy. “There are 60 million refugees worldwide,” notes Theo Francken. “In theory, they would all have been able to go to one of our embassies or consulates, apply for a humanitarian visa there, then travel to Brussels and request asylum here. Complete madness. And there’s also no support whatsoever for it: not in Belgium and certainly not anywhere else in Europe.”

Regional protection must be the priority

“As we should, we will continue to only issue visas for short stays if the applicant’s return is plausible,” Theo Francken explains. “Persons we suspect will request asylum after arriving in Belgium will not be considered eligible. At the same time we will continue to take part in humanitarian migration, but at our own initiative, after thorough checks and at the pace we ourselves set.” Here the focus is on religious minorities such as Christians and Yazidis who, because of religious and social persecution by majority groups, cannot count on long-term protection in their own region.

This approach - help in the person’s own region - is also the new policy priority of the European Union, and it has Theo Franken’s full support: “Europe has already taken in many refugees. It’s time for other countries to shoulder their responsibility. Here I’m thinking in particular of Saudi Arabia and the super-rich Gulf States.” The benefits offered by the new policy are already clear. For example, it is possible to help numerous families in the region itself for the cost of relocating just one single family to Europe. Linguistic and cultural affinity also means that helping refugees in that way is less disruptive, both for refugees themselves and for the country taking them in. Finally, there is also a greater chance of them returning home once the war is over. “Like every war, the war in Syria will end one day,” Theo Francken explains. “In this connection the Geneva Convention is an instrument for temporary protection, not permanent emigration.”

No penalty payments

Penalty payments of a certain amount per day the visa was not issued had also been imposed as part of the legal procedure. “It goes without saying that we will not be paying a single euro of those payments,” the State Secretary concludes.

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