On the systematic rejection of family reunification applications by Germany

RSA/PRO ASYL publication highlights the systematic rejections of family reunifications requests from Greece by Germany and their detrimental impact upon the rights of refugees

Since late 2017, there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of refusals of ‘take charge’ requests for family reunifications sent by Greece under the Dublin Regulationto Germany. In particular, asylum-seekers in Greece with family ties in Germany are faced with an even more harsh and wrongful application of the Dublin Regulation by the German authorities. This policyfollowed the significant delays in the registration of family reunification applications in Greece during 2016 and a ‘delays in transfers’ practice applied in the second-half of 2017.

The ground usually cited by German asylum authorities in the routine rejections of ‘take charge’ requests from Greece as inadmissible is that they had missed the deadline. This policy has been propped-up by a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that gave the German authorities a legal pretext to argue that the starting point of the three-month deadline to send the ‘take charge’ request is the time of the expression of intention – a much earlier stage which takes place during the arrival of the asylum-seekers and during the first reception registration – and not the time of the registration of the application. Statistics provided by the German authorities are illustrative of this worrisome trend. For example, in the period between 1 January 2018 and 07 May 2018, Greece had sent 870 ‘take charge’ requests to Germany, while Germany had rejected 582. Also, between 1 January 2019 and 22 May 2019 626 ‘take charge requests were sent and 472 were rejected.

It is worth also highlighting that German administrative courts in a dozen of interim measures concerning both, cases of families split already before arriving to Greece but most recently also cases of families that initially had arrived in Greece together, ruled that the jurisdiction for safeguarding family unity and the best interests of the child preceded the time-limits of the Dublin Regulation.

Today’s published Legal Note by Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) and PRO ASYL illustrates the system behind the denial of family reunification. Titled  “Refugee Families torn Apart: The systematic rejections of family reunifications requests from Greece by Germany and their detrimental impact upon the right to family life and the best interest of the child”examines major changes within the last three years and recent practices of the German authorities in relation to the implementation of the Dublin family reunification procedure for asylum-seekers in Greece who are separated from their relatives in Germany. The Note concludes that these practices are based in a harsh and wrongful application of the Dublin Regulation and they have the detrimental consequence of shrinking the right to family reunification, family life, children’s rights and other individual rights.

The research has been based on information and findings drawn from family reunification cases where the two NGOs provided legal support, statistics, analysis of rulings by German courts and information made available in public by the Greek and German authorities. The Note consists of analysis, cases-law, illustrative cases as well as a detailed timeline of developments linked to family reunification procedures for refugees wishing to unite with their families in Germany following the closure of the Balkans route.

PRO ASYL and RSA are seriously concerned that these persistent refusals by the German asylum authorities affect first and foremost the family unity of individuals that have already suffered from conflict, war and persecution and mostly impact upon the best interest and wellbeing of refugee children that have often been separated from their families for prolonged periods. Further, this policy signals also a worrisome political decision to disregard fundamental rights and principles as well the use of EU legislation for the purpose of deterring arrivals and trapping refugees at the south eastern borders of the continent and far from the ‘North’ in substandard conditions.

The two organizations urge the German authorities to review the current application of the Dublin Regulation and interpret it as a whole set of criteria and substantial principles (such as the family unityand the best interest of the child) and not just as formal rules and deadlines. Selective compliance with parts of the Regulation while disregarding main principles and values laid down by it constitutes a breach of the Regulation itself and is against the principles of good administration and the Common European Asylum System.

The German authorities should comply with the principles that German courts upheld in rulings ordering the authorities to exercise discretion and respect the principles of family unity and best interest of the child even in cases where formal deadlines have not been met or halt return decisions of asylum-seekers and recognized refugees to Greece issued by from the German Federal Office of Migration.

Germany as well as other European states cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that despite some steps forward, Greece’s reception system remains inadequate and faces tremendous challenges and gaps in the protection of individuals. Considering this, it goes without saying that refugees and asylum-seekers are still forced to leave Greece in order to find safety and dignity.

States participating in the Dublin system, and the EU institutions and agencies have a responsibility to comply with and monitor the application of the core principles and values of Dublin Regulation and the CEAS standards as well as implement a real ‘shared responsibility’ system. Regrettably, EU institutions have been deliberately passive in the face of violations of asylum standards and together with Member States breaching the Regulation remain accountable for this.