Democracy & Justice

Court to Decide if Belgium Should Have Granted Visas to Syrian Family

Belgium’s refusal to grant humanitarian visas to a Syrian family who turned up at the Beirut embassy has led to the case being brought before the European Court of Human Rights.

by Belgian League of Human Rights
Mobilisation citoyenne bleu foncé bus militants

Belgium refuses visas to Syrian family in Beirut

In 2016 the Belgian government refused to grant visas to a Syrian family who had survived bombs and crossfire in Aleppo. The family had been forced into exile in Beirut, where they contacted the Belgian Embassy. The family filed an appeal with the Aliens Litigation Council and won, but Belgium still refused to grant visas to the family. The family ended up turning to the European Court of Human Rights. Eleven Member States and five NGOs has intervened in the proceedings and the case has been brought to the Grand Chamber. The hearing will take place on 24 April 2019 in Strasbourg.

Court to decide on whether Belgium should have been responsible for family

The Court has to decide on three important questions: Firstly, was the Belgian State obliged to respect the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), even though the family was not on Belgian territory? Secondly, did Belgium violate Article 3 of the ECHR, which prohibits torture and inhumane and degrading treatment, by knowingly refusing help to the parents and two children while they were in Aleppo? And thirdly, did Belgium violate the right to access justice by its not the family visas even after the Aliens Litigation Council ordered it to do so?

The Belgian State Secretariat for Asylum and Migration has discretion over humanitarian visas and they are not forced to grant them by law. But the question is what the limits to this executive power should be and how it should be carried out while also upholding fundamental rights.

Members support Belgium, NGOs back family

Eleven member states of the Council of Europe have said that Belgium cannot be held responsible for events that took place outside its territory.

On the other hand, five NGOs intervened on the other side of the debate. Their stance is that from the moment the family went to the Belgian embassy, Belgium became responsible for their safety. To say that Belgium was not responsible because the family was not on its territory is to admit that people whose lives are in danger must go through traffickers and sometimes deadly exile routes to claim their right to protection. This is unacceptable. We are all responsible for ensuring safe and legal routes to Europe. It is now up to the European Court of Human Rights to decide.

A demonstration of concerned citizens will take place before the Court during the hearing, with more than a hundred people expected to attend. A free coach will be transporting protesters from Brussels to Strasbourg.

Signatories: Ligue des Droits Humains, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Liga voor Mensenrechten, Migreurop, Plateforme Citoyenne de Soutien aux Réfugiés, CNCD-11.11.11, CIRÉ, Mouvement ouvrier Chrétien (MOC), Aide aux Personnes Déplacées, Défense des enfants – Belgium, Service droit des jeunes, Collectif pour une autre politique migratoire, Comité pour l’abolition des dettes illégitimes (CADTM), Groupe d’information et de soutien des immigrés (GISTI), Point d’Appui asbl, Collectif contre les Rafles, les Expulsions et pour la Régularisation (CRER), ATTAC Bruxelles 1, ATTAC Bruxelles 2, AtMOsphères.

For more information on the case click here.


background information click here.


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