Europe

Belgium 'wrong to deny' Syrians visas, Europe court told

A Syrian boy rides his bicycle past destroyed buildings in Aleppo's formerly rebel-held al-Shaar neighbourhood on 21 January 2017, a month after government forces retook the northern Syrian city from rebel fighters Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Syrian family denied visas said their lives were at risk while they remained in war-ravaged Aleppo

EU states must issue entry visas to people at risk of torture or inhuman treatment, the European Court of Justice's top adviser has said.

The advice concerns the case of a Syrian family denied visas by Belgium, which argues it is not obliged to admit everyone from a war zone.

If the court accepts the finding, critics say it could open up a new path for migrants to reach Europe.

But Belgium's immigration minister has pointed out the advice is not binding.

Theo Francken said member states and the European Commission were "aware of the great precedent value" such a ruling would set.

In a similar recent case, he vowed not to open the door to "asylum chaos".

Image copyright Theo Francken
Image caption Belgian Immigration Minister Theo Francken has joked that he is prepared to see his office furniture confiscated than back down over the issue

The outspoken minister has refused to pay daily fines imposed by a tribunal for refusing to admit another Syrian family.

He said he was prepared to see his office furniture confiscated rather than pay up and even went as far as to post a picture of himself in an empty office as a joke.

Persecution risk

This case concerns a family from the then-besieged Syrian city of Aleppo who applied last October to the Belgian embassy in neighbouring Lebanon for entry visas so that they could make a full asylum claim inside Belgium.

The family comprises two adults and their three young children. They said one of them had been kidnapped by an armed group and beaten and tortured before being released in exchange for a ransom.

The family also argued that as Orthodox Christians, they were at risk of persecution because of their religious beliefs.

But their application was turned down, with Belgian authorities arguing that they clearly intended to stay in the country more than the visas' stipulated three months. In addition, they said EU member states were not obliged to admit all those finding themselves in a "catastrophic situation".

Now, Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi says that decision was contrary to EU law, in particular because it violated Article 4 (prohibiting torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Mr Francken had argued that Belgium cannot provide a visa to every Syrian family that has no connection to the country.

But in a press release accompanying the advice, the advocate general said the fundamental rights accorded by the charter were applicable "irrespective of any territorial criterion".

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