EU court says states can deny visas to refugees

A migrant stands next to a snow-covered tent on the island of Lesbos, on Jan 7, 2017.
A migrant stands next to a snow-covered tent on the island of Lesbos, on Jan 7, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

LUXEMBOURG (AFP) - The EU's top court ruled on Tuesday (March 7) that states can deny visas to people trying to enter to claim asylum, in a case of a Syrian family trying to come to Belgium.

In a surprise judgment, the European Court of Justice ruled against the family from the besieged city of Aleppo who had applied for the humanitarian visas at the Belgian embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut last October.

"Yesss! We won!" Belgium's Immigration Minister Theo Francken tweeted after the judgment.

The Luxembourg-based court went against an earlier recommendation by its chief lawyer that the family ran the risk of inhumane treatment if they stayed in Syria.

The decision was seen as a test case for EU countries which have been dealing with a huge number of refugees in the past two years, mainly from the conflict in Syria.

"Member States are not required, under EU law, to grant a humanitarian visa to persons who wish to enter their territory with a view to applying for asylum," the court said.

"But they remain free to do so on the basis of their national law," it added.

The Orthodox Christian couple and their three young children had challenged the refusal of the Belgian immigration office, citing the European Convention of Human Rights.

One family member claimed to have been abducted by an armed terrorist group, then beaten and tortured, before being release on payment of a ransom.

The family claimed more broadly they risked persecution on account of their religious beliefs.