Belgium’s refusal to grant humanitarian visas to a Syrian family: Matter brought before the European Court of Human Rights

Press release

In 2016, a Syrian family tried to survive bombs and crossfire in Aleppo. Forced into exile, the couple managed to apply for visas at the Belgian Embassy in Beirut, but the Belgian government refused to grant them visas. The family filed an appeal before the Aliens Litigation Council and won their case. Belgium, however, persisted in its refusal to grant visas to the family. The family ended up turning to the European Court of Human Rights. Eleven Member States and five NGOs have intervened in the proceedings and the case has been brought to the Grand Chamber. The hearing will take place on 24 April 2019 in Strasbourg.

For background information:

The Court will have to decide three questions:
 Was the Belgian State obliged to respect the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) while the family was not on its territory? (Article 1 of the ECHR)
 Has Belgium violated Article 3 of the ECHR, which prohibits torture and inhumane and degrading treatment, by knowingly leaving these parents and their two children without assistance under the bombs in Aleppo?
 Was the right to access justice violated by the State by its not granting visas to the family even after the Aliens Litigation Council ordered it to do so? (Articles 6 and 13 of the ECHR)

The Belgian State Secretariat for Asylum and Migration has discretionary jurisdiction over humanitarian visas and the criteria for granting them are not defined by law. Nevertheless, the executive power should not be unlimited; it must respect and uphold fundamental rights, which are essential conditions for democracy and the rule of law.

Eleven member states of the Council of Europe intervened to assert that a state - in this case Belgium - cannot be held responsible for events taking place outside its territory.

Five NGOs also intervened to defend the opposite stance: from the moment the family addressed the Belgian embassy, Belgium became responsible. To say that Belgium was not responsible because this family was not on its territory is to admit that people in danger for their lives must go through traffickers and sometimes deadly exile routes to claim their right to protection. This is unacceptable. We are all responsible for ensuring safe and legal routes to Europe. It is now up to the European Court of Human Rights to decide.

A demonstration of concerned citizens will take place before the Court during the hearing. More than a hundred people are expected. A coach (bus) is available from Brussels to Strasbourg, free of charge.

More information about the case is available here.

Signatories: Ligue des Droits Humains, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Liga voor Mensenrechten, Migreurop, Plateforme Citoyenne de Soutien aux Réfugiés, CNCD-11.11.11, CIRÉ, Mouvement ouvrier Chrétien (MOC), Aide aux Personnes Déplacées, Défense des enfants – Belgium, Service droit des jeunes, Collectif pour une autre politique migratoire, Comité pour l’abolition des dettes illégitimes (CADTM), Groupe d’information et de soutien des immigrés (GISTI), Point d’Appui asbl, Collectif contre les Rafles, les Expulsions et pour la Régularisation (CRER), ATTAC Bruxelles 1, ATTAC Bruxelles 2, AtMOsphères.

Press contacts:
Pierre-Arnaud Perrouty,
Director of the Ligue des Droits Humains (Brussels)
00 32 484 18 35 35

Samuel Hanryon,
Press Manager, FIDH (Paris) / 00 33 6 72 28 42 94 /

Olivia Venet,
President of the Ligue des Droits Humains
00 32 472 33 57 02

Gaëlle Dusepulchre,
FIDH lawyer
00 32 479 49 19 59

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