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IMMIGRATION

Denmark to cut wait for family reunion after losing European court case

Denmark is to reduce the amount of time refugees need to wait before apply for family reunification after The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the current "three-year rule" was excessive.

Syrian refugees protest outside Denmark's parliament against Denmark's decision that the area around Damascus is now 'safe'.
Syrian refugees protest outside Denmark's parliament against Denmark's decision that the area around Damascus is now 'safe'. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

In a press release issued on Friday, the country’s immigration ministry said that it would next year submit a bill amending the country’s immigration law, or udlændingeloven to reduce the length of time refugees need to wait before applying for family reunion from three years to two.

But the new law will also contain a clause allowing Denmark to bring back the “three-year rule” at short notice if there is a refugee crisis.

“I of course regret that the verdict went against Denmark,” Mattias Tesfaye, Denmark’s immigration minister, said in statement, adding that he was nonetheless “relieved” that the court had deemed a two-year wait acceptable, and had also left open the possibility of longer waits during periods of extremely high refugee numbers.

“We are working hard to keep our refugee numbers at a record low, but if we today have a situation similar to 2015, we want to be able to lift the limit from two to three years. That is a good tool to have in our toolbox.”

The so-called MA case was brought by the Syrian doctor Mosalam Albaroudi, who arrived in Denmark in 2015 and then five months later applied for family reunification with his wife and was rejected.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled on July 9th that the reason for the rejection of his reunification visa was a violation of human rights.

The case concerns a controversial change to Denmark’s laws in 2016, when Denmark’s Parliament (Folketing) passed the so-called “three-year rule” that required refugees to wait three years before applying for family reunification.

That’s why Albaroudi’s application was denied a residence permit for his wife. The decision was upheld by Denmark’s Supreme Court in 2017.

Albaroudi and his lawyer, Christian Dahlager, believed the decision violated the European Convention on Human Rights, and so they continued their efforts to overturn the ruling.

The Convention states that everyone has the right to privacy and family life, and that an authority can restrict this right only if it is necessary in a democratic society to protect a number of essential interests of society. It applies to members of the Council of Europe, to which Denmark belongs.

In its decision, the European Court of Human Rights stated that Denmark’s three-year waiting period has not “struck a reasonable balance between, on the one hand, the applicant’s interest in being reunited with his wife in Denmark and, on the other hand, society’s interest as a whole in being able to control immigration in order to protect the country’s economic well being, to ensure effective integration and to maintain the cohesion of society.”

Sixteen judges voted in favor of Albaroudi, and one judge abstained. The court also awarded Albaroudi compensation of 75,000 kroner.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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