One-way ticket to Sudan: standard-setting, yet disconnection between reasoning and outcome in N.A. v. Switzerland?

By Ellen Desmet, assistant professor of migration law at Ghent University

On 30 May 2017, the European Court of Human Rights decided two cases regarding the expulsion of rejected asylum seekers by Switzerland to Sudan. In A.I. v. Switzerland, the Court held unanimously that there would be a violation of Articles 2 and 3 ECHR in case of implementation of the deportation order, whereas in N.A. v. Switzerland the Court, also unanimously, did not find a conditional violation of these provisions.

The judgments (only in French) deserve a blogpost for at least two reasons. First, the Court explicitly sets out criteria in order to assess the risk of ill-treatment of political opponents when returned to Sudan. Second, the legal reasoning in N.A. v. Switzerland seems to hold potential for improvement. This post does not aim to question the outcome in N.A.: even though many aspects of A.I. and N.A. run parallel, there are important factual differences that may justify finding a violation in one case but not in the other. It does take issue with the way this outcome is arrived at in N.A. v. Switzerland. Continue reading

Systematic detention of asylum seekers at the border: on the need for an individualised necessity test

By Ruben Wissing, lawyer at UNHCR and academic assistant migration law at Ghent University

In the Thimothawes judgement of 4 April 2017, the European Court of Human Rights acquits the Belgian State of the charge of having breached the right to liberty under article 5 §1 of the ECHR by systematically detaining asylum seekers at its external border at the national airport, as long as a (prima facia) vulnerability assessment has been undertaken, the duration of the detention remains reasonable and detention conditions are adequate.  Two dissenting judges however do not consider this sufficient to ensure that the detention is not arbitrary. Continue reading

X and X v. Belgium: a missed opportunity for the CJEU to rule on the state’s obligations to issue humanitarian visa for those in need of protection

By Helena De Vylder, lawyer at the Flemish Integration Agency (Agentschap voor Integratie en Inburgering)

On 7 March 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) gave a preliminary ruling in the case PPU X and X v. Belgium. Against the recommendations of the Advocate General, the CJEU left the responsibility for granting humanitarian visas with the Member States. It argued that, although the request for a visa was formally submitted on the basis of Article 25 Visa Code, the situation at stake fell outside the scope of the Visa Code. The applicants submitted the request with the intention to apply for asylum as soon as possible upon their arrival in Belgium and to stay there as refugees, while the Visa Code only covers short-term visa. Continue reading

V.M. and others v. Belgium: The tragic story of yet another “disappeared case”

Guest post by Moritz Baumgärtel, lecturer and researcher at the Department of European and International Public Law at Tilburg University. Moritz recently defended his PhD at the Université libre de Bruxelles. His project was a part of the IAP research network “The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective”.

On 17 November 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided to strike off its list of cases the application in V.M. and others v. Belgium. The case concerned the reception conditions and the exposure to a risk of inhumane and degrading treatment of a Roma family in the context of a “Dublin transfer” from Belgium to France. The matter was referred to the Grand Chamber following a judgment of the Second Section on 7 July 2015, which had found violations of articles 3 and 13 of the ECHR. In striking out the application because the lawyer failed to maintain contact with the clients, the Grand Chamber added yet another chapter to the already lengthy volume on “disappeared cases”. The Court’s decision raises serious questions regarding the effectiveness of its remedies and the problems it poses for strategically minded lawyers in the migration domain.

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On a positive note: B.A.C. v. Greece

By Ellen Desmet, assistant professor of migration law at Ghent University.

On 13 October 2016, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously found in B.A.C. v. Greece that the Greek state’s omission to decide on an asylum application during more than twelve years violated Article 8 as well as Article 13 in conjunction with Article 8. The Court also considered that there would be a violation of Article 3 in conjunction with Article 13, if the applicant would be returned to Turkey without an assessment ex nunc by the Greek authorities of his personal situation.

This is the first time that the Court finds that an asylum seeker’s prolonged precarious and uncertain situation, due to an unjustified lack of action by the government as regards his asylum request, constitutes a violation of the right to respect for private life as guaranteed by Article 8 ECHR.

The judgment (only in French) has been discussed by Markos Karavias on EJIL: Talk!, and was mentioned by Benoit Dhondt on this blog in a comparative perspective, namely as a promising decision standing in contrast to the striking out of Khan v. Germany by the Grand Chamber. This post provides a complementary analysis of the Court’s considerations under Article 8 ECHR.

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Khan v. Germany, Episode II: The Empire strikes out

Guest post by Benoit Dhondt, Belgian lawyer specialized in migration and refugee law. As a teaching assistant, he is also connected to the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, more specifically its Human Rights and Migration Law Clinic.

Several practitioners were disappointed with the road the ECtHR traveled in Khan v. Germany last year. With the Grand Chamber referral, hope rose for a more sensible approach and greater protection standards for mentally ill migrants on the verge of expulsion. Alas, the Grand Chamber has struck out the case, leaving us with more questions than answers. In what follows I will give a brief description of the case after which I will delve a little bit deeper into some of the issues the decision to strike out has left untouched.

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The potential of a vulnerability-based approach: some additional reflections following O.M. v Hungary

Guest post by Denise Venturi, PhD Student in International Law, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Italy) and KU Leuven (Belgium)

As has recently been noted in this blog, the case of O.M. v Hungary adds another tile to the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) mosaic on vulnerability. The present blog post seeks to start from these premises and dig further into the Court’s reasoning, to reflect on the extent to which vulnerability can be operationalised and meaningfully used in the legal reasoning and when, instead, it risks to remain confined only to a synonym for specific situations deserving attention.

As the readers of this blog may know, O.M. v Hungary concerned the detention to which a gay asylum seeker from Iran was subject while his asylum request was processed and before being granted refugee status. The detention was ordered because, allegedly, Mr. O.M. had not been able to clarify his identity and nationality; had entered irregularly; had not had any resources to live on in Hungary and there was a risk he could frustrate the procedure if left at large. The applicant claimed before the ECtHR that his detention had been unjustified with respect to Article 5(1)(b) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and that no individual assessment had been carried out. Notably, the applicant’s sexual orientation had not been taken into consideration, although Mr. O.M. reported to fear harassment in detention because of this circumstance.

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