EU Court Ruling on Asylum Seekers May Spill Into Brexit Vote

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  • EU judges rule that refugees can fight transfers to new nation
  • Ruling could affect migration debate ahead of U.K. referendum

Judges at the European Union’s top court ruled that asylum seekers can fight decisions to send them to another EU nation to process their application, in a case that could spill over to the U.K.’s increasingly fierce debate on EU membership and migration.

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Asylum seekers have “the right to an effective remedy in respect of any transfer decision,” the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg said Tuesday.

The U.K.’s referendum on EU membership is little more than two weeks away and how the bloc deals with asylum seekers has become one of the hottest topics of the campaign. The biggest influx of refugees to Europe since World War II has put the region’s migration system under severe pressure as governments have bickered about who should take responsibility for new arrivals.

The EU’s top court in 2013 already ruled that under an earlier version of the law in question, the possibilities to challenge transfer decisions were very limited. The law has since been reviewed to strengthen the legal protection for asylum applicants in the EU, but questions remain as to its scope and the situations in which transfer decisions can be challenged.

‘No Systemic Deficiencies’

Tuesday’s ruling broadened the rights for asylum seekers, allowing them to challenge a decision to transfer their application to another country “even where there are no systemic deficiencies in the asylum process or in the reception conditions for asylum applicants in that” nation.

Although the EU is considering changing the system to deal with the fallout of the exodus from war-torn Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa, the ruling is based on existing EU rules that stipulate asylum applications must be processed in the country where the migrant first arrived.

Those campaigning for the U.K. to leave the EU after the June 23 referendum say that an exit would give the British government far greater control over migration and its borders. They seized on data published by the U.K’s Office of National Statistics last month that showed Prime Minister David Cameron is failing to deliver on a pre-election pledge to slash the number of foreigners coming to live in Britain.

‘Rogue’ Court

The decision will give further fuel to “Leave” supporters, including U.K. Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who told an audience in Stratford-upon-Avon on Monday that the European Court of Justice is a “rogue” body that threatens national security and that the lack of border controls across the EU helps terrorists, the Press Association reported.

“The ruling increases the risk that illegal immigrants will be able to enter the U.K., because it weakens the ability of other EU governments to put in place proper checks,” Tory lawmaker Dominic Raab said in a statement. “The EU is simply not fit for purpose, and the only way to take back control is to Vote Leave on 23 June.”

The matter reached the bloc’s top court after a Dutch and a Swedish tribunal in separate cases sought more guidance on the scope of the EU rules to help them determine the fate of an Iranian man and a Syrian man respectively. While the questions are similar, the facts surrounding both men are different.

Iranian Mehrdad Ghezelbash sought asylum in the Netherlands but had his application refused because the authorities found he had previously gotten a visa in France, and without much notice, asked the French authorities to process his request and they accepted. Ghezelbash is challenging this decision, arguing that the Netherlands is where he first filed for asylum and his request should be processed there.

In the Swedish courts, the answers will help resolve the tussle over Syrian George Karim, who had his asylum application in Sweden rejected and send back to Slovenia.

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