M.A. v. Belgium: the (in)voluntary return of a Sudanese migrant and the dangers of informal migration cooperation with third countries

By Eleonora Frasca, PhD Researcher in EU Migration Law at UCLouvain, Member of EDEM (Equipe droit européen et migrations)

On 27 October 2020, the Court delivered its ruling in the case of M.A. v. Belgium (press release available in English). The case concerns the deportation of a Sudanese national, who was apprehended without documents by the Belgian police and detained pending removal, despite  an order to suspend the measure. The Court found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) of the Convention due to the State’s failure to assess the applicant’s protection needs and risk of exposure to treatment contrary to Article 3 in the event of his return to Sudan. The Court also found a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 3 because the remedy he used was rendered ineffective due to his removal despite him having successfully sought to prevent it.

This judgement is important for three reasons. Firstly, it provides clarification on the real and effective access to asylum procedures, particularly in cases where applicants are held in pre-removal detention and thus in a situation of increased vulnerability. Secondly, the judgment sheds lights on the procedural guarantees surrounding the organisation of meetings between an applicant and the authorities of their country of origin with a view to positively identify and issue documents for their return, before the applicant’s protection needs have been assessed. Thirdly, the Court rejected the State’s arguments regarding the voluntary character of the applicant’s return to Sudan and provided guidelines to clearly distinguish voluntary departure from forcible return.

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