EU court rules "no obligation" to issue humanitarian visas

The ruling comes as the EU announced stricter new border checks for anyone entering or leaving the bloc

EU court rules "no obligation" to issue humanitarian visas

Refugees cross the Macedonia-Serbia border in this January 2016 file photo | Image: UNHCR/Igor Pavicevic

Europe’s top court has ruled that EU member states have no obligation to issue humanitarian visas to people at risk of torture or inhuman treatment.

The decision by the European Court of Justice on Tuesday cuts off a possible channel for refugees into the bloc.

The ruling was in response to a Belgian court order issued in October requiring the government to give humanitarian visas to a family from the war-torn city of Aleppo in Syria.

The family had applied for a visa to stay with acquaintances who had offered to lodge and feed them.

The family are believed to still be in Syria.

At the time, Belgium's immigration minister claimed that ruling in favour of humanitarian visas would "throw the gates wide open" to asylum-seekers.

The European court yesterday ruled that allowing people to choose where to get international protection would undermine the EU system establishing which country should handle asylum applications.

Individual member states remain free to grant the visas under their own national law.

Stricter border checks

It comes as the EU adopted new rules tightening border checks for anyone entering or leaving the bloc.

The rules oblige member states to check all travellers arriving or leaving the EU against customs, crime and visa databases.

Until now, EU nationals were exempt from such ID checks.

The new rules have reportedly been introduced in an effort to track people who may have travelled to fight in war zones.

Malta currently holds the EU presidency and the country’s interior minister said the new regulations will help "address potential risks to internal security, including that posed by foreign terrorist fighter returnees."

The Maltese Presidency has made strengthening security in the EU one of its six priorities.

Advocates of the measures fear the Iraqi government-led attack on ISIS in the northern city of Mosul will lead to foreign fighters returning to Europe.

Movement within the European Schengen area will remain unaffected.