The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has overturned a German rule on family reunification, thereby strengthening the rights of underage migrants. It ruled that the German practice of denying minors in Syria to reunite with their family in Germany violates EU law.
Was the unaccompanied migrant child a minor at the time the application for family reunification was lodged? If so, the family has a right to be reunited, the highest court of the European Union said on Monday (August 1).
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) thereby overruled the German courts in two cases regarding the rights of refugees and migrants with respect to family reunification. It also overturned German rulings on the protection of minors and restrictions on child allowance payments.
The ruling about family reunification concerns two cases in which German authorities had denied Syrians from being reunited with their family because the applicants or the family members reached the age of majority while the application was processed.
In one of the cases, parents from Syria had applied for family reunification with their underage son, who was recognized as a refugee in Germany. The other case concerned an underage female Syrian who wanted to reunite with her father, who had refugee status in Germany. In both cases, the Syrians had arrived in Germany in 2015.
According to the ECJ, families also retain the right for family reunification if a visa for the purpose of family reuninifiation is filed by a minor who has reached the age of majority before their parents has been recognized as a refugee and before filing the application for family reunification.
Lack of 'neccesary urgency'
So far German authorities checked if a person was underage on the date of calling a decision instead of on the date when the application was first lodged. According to the ECJ judges, this prevailing legal position and existing practice was contrary to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
The court further found that the current practice was contrary to the EU rights charter because it meant the authorities had "no reason to process the applications of minors' parents with the urgency that's necessary to do the minors' vulnerability justice," the judges said.
Monday's judgment confirmed a similar ECJ ruling from 2018, whereupon a German administrative court obligated German authorities to issue visas for family reunifications. But Germany appealed the decision at the federal administrative court, which called the ECJ.
EJC strengthens migrant minors' rights
In a second ruling, the ECJ backed the rights of migrant minors applying for international protection in Germany. Whether the parents had been afforded protection in another EU country was irrelevant, the court ruled -- provided the minor had not already applied for protection in another country.
The background of the judgment was the case of a Russian minor whose application for international protection was rejected by Germany on the grounds that her family had already been granted protection status in Poland.
In a third ruling, the EJC overturned a German judgment on child allowances for citizens of other EU countries entering Germany in terms of which claims depend on income from work over the first three months. All EU residents were entitled to equal treatment irrespective of origin, the ECJ ruled.
ICJ ruling welcomed
Reem Alabali-Radovan, Germany's Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, called the EJC ruling "good news" for refugee families. "We will now examine where changes are necessary," the social democrat said Monday evening (August 1).
Alabali-Radovan stressed that it won't matter from now on whether a child comes of age during the proceedings. "Many refugee families have waited for this for a long time," the 32-year-old said. "Being separated from one's family, when thoughts and hearts are with relatives in crisis areas, is also a burden to integration."
German refugee advocacy organization Pro Asyl also welcomed the ECJ rulings. "Many families torn apart through their escape can breathe a sigh of relief: Their entitlement to family reunification remains valid even when a child comes of age," the NGO wrote in an online statement.
At the same time, Pro Asyl called Germany's delaying the process for four years a "scandal" and urged the government coalition to adjust existing laws and take "additional, necessary steps" to accelerate family reunifications.
In the European Union, EU law is above national law. EU member states and national courts must therefore follow the ECJ rulings.
With dpa, KNA