A hearing of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which among others, interprets European Union law at the request of the national courts and tribunals/Photo: © Court of Justice of the European Union

EU’s top court rules on family reunification of African migrants and refugees with their children

Migrants and refugees in the EU can apply to reunite with their children and bring them to Europe if the children are minors. But what if they reach maturity during the application process? They can still be reunited with their parents, because what matters is the age they were when the application was filed, the European Court of Justice has ruled.

An application for family reunification of a minor child may not be dismissed if the child has reached majority during the proceedings, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled Thursday. The case was brought to court by an African refugee in Belgium whose reunification with his three children had failed.

In 2012, the man — who holds refugee status in Belgium — applied for family reunification of his three minor children at the Belgian embassy in Conakry. His case was rejected. When he tried again at the Belgian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, the application was again denied. Belgian authorities rejected the files in 2014 on the ground they were based on “fraudulent and misleading information”, the ECJ writes in a press statement.

The council for asylum and immigration proceedings in Belgium (Conseil du contentieux des étrangers) further declared the applications inadmissible in 2018 on the ground of “lack of interest” – the children had all reached adult age by the time the council delivered its decision and “therefore no longer satisfied the conditions laid down by the provisions governing family reunification which minor children are entitled to enjoy.”

In turn, the three children lodged an appeal with the Council of State in Belgium, saying that their right to family reunification, guaranteed by EU law, was not respected. The case was then handed over to the European Court of Justice.

ECJ judgment

In it’s ruling on July 16, the ECJ stated that “the date which should be referred to in order to determine whether a ‘minor child’ is concerned is that of the submission of the application for entry and residence for the purposes of family reunification, and not the date at which a decision was given on that application … .”

The court referred to the directive on family reunification (2003/86), part of EU law, and said that the reunification of minors was of particular significance. The objective of the directive was “to promote family reunification and also to grant protection to third-country nationals, in particular minors.”

Right to family reunification

The directive determines the conditions under which family reunification is granted. A migrant or refugee applying for reunification (called the ‘sponsor’) can apply to bring their spouse, minor children and the children of their spouse to the EU country in which they are residing. The unification with unmarried partners, adult children or dependent parents and grandparents, may be authorised by member states on an individual basis, according to the European Commission.

Member states in the EU may impose some conditions before allowing family reunification, for example by requiring proof of adequate accommodation and sufficient resources. Also, member states usually require foreigners to comply with integration measures before or after arrival. The admission requirements for persons holding refugee status are usually “more favourable”, according to the European Commission.

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