Decisions handed down by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg are considered to be binding | Photo: Imago Images / P. Scheiber
Decisions handed down by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg are considered to be binding | Photo: Imago Images / P. Scheiber

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that unaccompanied and underage refugees can bring their family to the EU even if they are already married.

The right to family reunification applies to unaccompanied minors regardless of marriage. That's according to a new ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from Thursday (November 17).

In the ruling, ECJ judges said that unaccompanied minors are particularly in need of protection and should be able to benefit from that protection regardless of marriage. The ruling comes after the court was asked to try the case of an individual who had been married in Lebanon when she was 15.

The girl had then come to join her husband, who had a valid resident's permit to reside in Belgium. On arrival in Belgium at the end of August 2017, eight months after her marriage in Lebanon, the subject of the case was deemed an unaccompanied minor by the Belgian authorities and assigned a legal guardian.

Asylum granted, family reunification refused

She then applied for asylum a month later and was recognized as a refugee in September 2018. A few months later, the girl's mother and two of the mother's minor children applied for the right to join the girl in Belgium.

But their application was refused by the Belgium authorities in 2019, essentially because up until then family reunification could only apply for unmarried minor children, not those who had married in a jurisdiction where child marriage was legal.

At first the girl's marriage was not recognized in Belgium because it was a child marriage. The Belgian authorities nevertheless refused to reunite her, arguing the child was no longer part of the parents' nuclear family as a result of the marriage.

Also read: Top EU court overrules German family reunification rule, backs migrant minors' rights

Results of litigation 

However, in the ruling, it was noted that especially in the case of underage girls, for example, marriage could indicate serious forms of violence such as forced marriages or child marriages, and so it was more important that the authorities recognize the minor status of an applicant rather than their marital status, and grant her special protection in that way.

In addition, the marital status of an unaccompanied minor refugee can often be difficult to determine; this is especially true in countries of origin that are unable to issue reliable official documents, reported the German news agency KNA.

According to dpa, the Belgian Council for Alien Law Litigation wanted to know from the ECJ whether the right to family reunification only applies to unmarried minors. After a long deliberation their answer seems to be no.

In the European Union, EU law is above national law. EU member states and national courts must therefore follow the ECJ rulings.

Also read: ECJ rules NGO migrant ships can be detained, but not without cause

With dpa and KNA


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