On 12 November 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered its judgment in Haqbin concerning sanctions that may be imposed on an applicant of international protection for serious breaches of reception centre rules. 

The applicant, an Afghan national, arrived in Belgium as an unaccompanied minor before making an application for international protection. Mr Haqbin was involved in a physical altercation between other residents at the Broechem reception centre and was subsequently excluded from material support in the reception facility for 15 days.

Article 20(4) of the recast Reception Conditions Directive permits states to use sanctions against such conduct. In its reference for a preliminary ruling, the Belgian referring court requested the CJEU to clarify whether a withdrawal of material reception conditions would be permissible.

The Court found that a withdrawal of accommodation, food and clothing, even for a short period of time, would be incompatible with states’ duty to ensure applicants a dignified standard of living under Article 20(5) of the recast Reception Conditions Directive and Article 1 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as it would have the effect of depriving applicants of the possibility of meeting their most basic needs. The Court also noted that the requirement to ensure a dignified standard of living must guarantee that such a standard of living is provided continuously and without interruption. Moreover, where the applicant is considered vulnerable, the State must take into account the principle of proportionality, and in the case of an unaccompanied minor, the principle of the best interests of the child. It was therefore held that the withdrawal of material reception conditions cannot be ordered as a sanction for a breach of reception facility rules.