Child refugees have right to bring family, EU court rules

Eritrean teenager wins legal battle that could affect tens of thousands of refugees in Europe

refugee child
A young refugee girl from South Sudan arrives in Uganda 
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Child refugees who arrive in Europe alone must be allowed to apply for family members to join them, the EU’s top court has ruled.

The decision, handed down by the European Court of Justice on Thursday, also applies to young refugees who reach adulthood before the end of the asylum process.

The right for young refugees to be reunified with their families "is not at the discretion of the member states,” the court said.

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The case centred on a teenage girl from Eritrea who applied for asylum in the Netherlands and turned 18 during the process, according to Deutsche Welle.

After it was granted, she sought to bring her family members to the country, but her application was denied by local authorities.

Yesterday’s decision “could impact tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who applied for asylum within the bloc,” the German broadcaster says.

The situation in the UK

Currently, only adult refugees are allowed to be reunited with their family members. Child refugees who have travelled to the UK alone are not permitted to bring parents or siblings to join them.

“These children are some of the most vulnerable in the country,” Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, wrote for the Huffington Post in January.

“Arriving alone in Britain, facing a multitude of new difficulties and challenges, many now face the heart-breaking prospect that they may never see their parents or siblings again,” she argued.

Last month, MPs backed proposed legislation to enable refugee children to sponsor applications for close relatives to settle with them in the UK.

The government refused to support the bill, but it passed its second reading after Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and some Tory MPs spoke in favour of it, the BBC reported.

The wider problem

The refugee crisis has fallen out of the headlines since it peaked in the summer of 2015, but thousands of people continue to arrive in Europe each month and hundreds more drown at sea.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 16,500 have crossed the Mediterranean, according to the UN Refugee Agency. At least 500 people have been reported dead or missing.

Despite a dramatic drop in the number of refugees and migrants reaching Europe since 2015, “the dangers many face along the way have in some cases increased,” it warns.

In January, EU leaders set a June deadline to reform the so-called Dublin rules and create a permanent system for all members to admit refugees in the event of a fresh emergency.

“Under existing rules, countries where migrants first arrive are required to process asylum requests, putting a heavy burden on Greece and Italy, the current main entry points to Europe,” says AFP.

However, “little, if any progress has been made since talks on asylum reform began in 2016,” it says.

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