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A refugee family arrives at a center in Dortmund, Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Thissen

Top EU court rules in favor of refugee minors

April 12, 2018

The ECJ has ruled that refugee minors have a right to family reunifications, even if they turn 18 during the application process. The case could have a major impact on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.


The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday that unaccompanied refugee minors retain the right to family reunification even if they come of age during the asylum application process.

The ruling from the European Union's top court could impact tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who applied for asylum within the bloc, while shaking up immigration hardliners in Germany who want to curb family reunifications.

Read moreHoping for family reunification: 'I need my wife to start again'

What the decision said 

  • Young refugees who applied for asylum in the EU while still minors but turned 18 before they were granted asylum retain the right to family reunification.
  • However, they must file an application for reunification no later than three months after their asylum request was accepted. 
  • Refugees who fall into this category will be regarded as "minors" even though they are 18 or older.
  • The court ruled that the right for young refugees to be reunified with their families "is not at the discretion of the member states."

Refugee family reunification

What's the case about? The case concerned a young girl from Eritrea who applied for asylum in the Netherlands and turned 18 during the process. After her asylum application was granted, she applied for her parents to join her — citing the right of unaccompanied minor refugees to family reunification — but her request was denied by local Dutch authorities, who said it no longer applied because she was no longer a minor.

How many refugees could be affected? Numerous refugees could be affected in Germany alone, although the family reunification application time limit could limit how many are eligible. According to figures from Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, some 66,300 unaccompanied minors entered Germany between January 2015 and October 2017. The office did not provide exact figures on the number of those who turned 18 during their asylum applications.

How family reunification works in Germany: In general, someone who has been granted asylum or refugee status has the right to bring immediate family members to Germany, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Immediate family members include the spouse, children and – only if the refugee is a minor – siblings and parents. A two-year suspension on family reunifications was introduced in 2016 for persons entitled to subsidiary protection. Refugees who were officially granted this protection after March 17, 2016, now have to wait until July 31, 2018, before they can even apply for family reunification.

What could the ruling mean for Germany? The court's decision will likely ramp up tensions within German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government as the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) butt heads over family reunifications for refugees. CSU party head and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has been portraying himself as an immigration and refugee hardliner. His rhetoric has led to fears within the SPD that he may turn back on a coalition deal to allow a maximum 1,000 people per month to arrive in Germany for family reunifications.

rs/rt (AFP, dpa)

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