On the 18th of April 2023, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled in its judgment C‑1/23, Afrin. The case concerned a Syrian family, X and Y and their children A and B, of whom Y is recognised as refugee in Belgium and X and the children are still in Syria. The applicants applied for family reunification by e-mail stating that they are in exceptional circumstances preventing them from submitting their application in person to Belgium’s representation abroad. The Belgian authorities stated that, according to Belgian law, such an application is not permitted. In the course of appeals proceedings domestic court requested a preliminary ruling on the compatibility of Belgian legislation with the Family Reunification Directive.

The Court first found that the requirement to appear in person at the representation abroad when applying for a family reunification, without allowing for derogations, in order to take account of the specific situation in which the sponsor’s family members find themselves, results in impossibility to exercise their right to family reunification. Such national legislation, applied without the necessary flexibility, undermines the objective pursued by the Directive and deprives it of its effectiveness.

Second, the Court ruled that such a provision infringes the right to respect for family unity set out in the EU Charter. The CJEU noted that the provision constitutes a disproportionate interference with this right in relation to the legitimate aim of combating fraud. However, the Court pointed out that MS may require the sponsor’s family members to appear in person at a later stage, but in that case, MS must facilitate such an appearance and reduce the number of appearances to the strict minimum.

The Court concludes that EU law precludes national legislation which requires that the sponsor’s family members, in particular those of a recognised refugee, appear in person at the competent consular post of a MS, including in a situation where it is impossible or excessively difficult for them to travel to that post, without prejudice to the possibility for that MS to require that those members appear in person at a later stage of the family reunification procedure.

Based on an unofficial translation from within the ELENA team