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Germany can deport refugees to poorer EU countries

March 19, 2019

Berlin is within its rights to deport asylum-seekers to other countries in the bloc, even if they'll encounter poor living conditions there, according to the EU's highest court. Exceptions apply only in extreme cases.

Refugees with suitcases
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pförtner

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Tuesday cleared the way for Germany to deport asylum-seekers to other EU member states.

Judges in the Luxembourg-based court ruled that weak social benefit systems and living conditions in certain countries were not grounds to block transfers.

Read moreRome warns Germany not to deport migrants back to Italy

What did the ECJ say?

  • Shortcomings in the welfare system of a member state should not prevent asylum-seekers from being deported there.
  • Exceptions apply only in extreme cases, where the individual is deprived of the "most basic needs, such as feeding, washing and finding shelter," the judges said.
  • This does not cover "significant poverty" or a wish to have German social standards.  
  • The judges pointed out that the EU asylum system was based on mutual trust and that decisions taken by EU states should respect human rights.
  • They also ruled that asylum claims could be rejected in cases where the applicant already enjoys subsidiary protection in another EU country.

Read moreGermany 'ignoring' ECJ ruling on refugee reunification

What are the EU's asylum rules?: Under the EU's Dublin Regulation, asylum-seekers must lodge their claim in the first EU country they set foot in. That country is responsible for protecting that individual and processing his or her application. Migrants who travel onwards to another country illegally and lodge an application there instead can be sent back to the point of entry. This transfer must take place within a six-months.

How the ECJ case came about? Judges in Germany had asked the ECJ to interpret the bloc's asylum rules to clear up doubts about when deportations could occur in several cases. One case involved a Gambian man who had lodged an asylum application in Italy before traveling to Germany and filing another claim there. He argued he should not be sent back to Italy because of poor conditions for refugees there. Other cases involved a Palestinian who came to Germany via Bulgaria and a Chechen who entered via Poland.

Read moreEuropean Commission refers Hungary to ECJ for defying EU asylum laws

What happens now? The ECJ's ruling is significant because it gives Germany the go-ahead to return asylum-seekers to the point at which they entered the EU. However, the final decision on the fate of the asylum-seekers in question will ultimately be up to Germany's federal courts. It's unclear how Hungary, Italy and Poland will respond, given that all three governments have resisted taking in refugees. Last year, Germany transferred more than 8,000 asylum-seekers to other EU states. Most went to Italy. Only a few went to Greece and none were accepted by Hungary.  

Terrorizing a refugee camp

Human rights concerns: Activists argue that the conditions for refugees in some of entry countries, such as Greece, are deplorable. They say that instead of sending asylum-seekers back, Germany should instead take over responsibility for their applications. Germany currently sends very few, if any, asylum-seekers to Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece, according to the Interior Ministry, which said there was no guarantee the countries were upholding EU asylum rules.

Read moreGermany deports record number of refugees to other EU states

Hungary before the courts: The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, took Hungary to court in mid-2018 over its treatment of asylum-seekers. Brussels accused the government of Viktor Orban of violating EU laws by keeping asylum applicants in transit zones on the Hungarian border for excessively long periods of time. That case is ongoing.

nm/amp (AFP, dpa)

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