Leiden Law Blog

Family reunification for refugees is a human right

Posted on by Mark Klaassen in Public Law
Family reunification for refugees is a human right

On 20 October the Dutch State Secretary for Security and Justice in charge of migration affairs Klaas Dijkhoff sent a letter to all asylum seekers who are currently awaiting an asylum procedure. In this letter he informed asylum seekers about austere reception conditions due to insufficient space at the regular reception centres, longer waiting periods and the impossibility of filing an application for family reunification before an asylum residence permit has been granted. The message from the State Secretary is clear and it is understandable that the government is facing a real challenge in providing for reception and asylum procedures for the increasing number of asylum applicants. It should however be noted that delaying family reunification for refugees means that many refugees will have to live without their family members during a period when their future is already uncertain. It should be born in mind that refugees have a human right to be reunited with their family members who remain in their country of origin.

I am concerned that the State Secretary’s message might not only be driven by administrative problems relating to the reception of large numbers of applicants, but that it is also intended to create an atmosphere in which asylum seekers will opt to go to another member state other than the Netherlands. To illustrate this concern, it should be born in mind that the Common European Asylum System – which includes the Dublin system for the allocation of asylum seekers to the member states – was meant to prevent ‘forum shopping’; the idea that asylum seekers would go to the member state with the highest level of protection and the best reception conditions. This in turn could lead to a race to the bottom, as member states would be inclined to lower their reception conditions and delay the processing of asylum requests in order to attract fewer asylum seekers.

With the failing of the Dublin system for the allocation of asylum seekers to the member states, this is exactly what seems to be happening in Europe nowadays. In Hungary, the far-right government is building a fence to prevent asylum seekers crossing the border and is creating an atmosphere which is unfriendly to asylum seekers. Sweden is housing some asylum seekers in very isolated places in forests. In Poland, the general climate is becoming very unfriendly towards immigrants and the government is doing little to address this. These examples illustrate different mechanisms through which the reception climate in member states is being made unattractive to asylum seekers.

Even though the intentions of the State Secretary might be otherwise, the message could have a deterrent effect on asylum seekers deciding in which member state they will lodge an application for asylum. In the long run, the shifting of responsibilities to other member states is not sustainable. The risk of a race to the bottom is a real one. In the absence of real solutions at the European level, it should be remembered that family unification is a human right. Particularly in the case of  refugees, who were forced to leave their home country, it is important that they are reunited with their family members - also when you consider that these family remembers are often left behind in an unsafe place. 

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