UK must take back refugees despite Brexit, EU's top court rules

The ECJ has reaffirmed the UK's current responsibility under Dublin rules. That means British authorities must take back asylum-seekers that entered the EU via the UK, despite its intention to withdraw.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Wednesday ruled that British authorities must accept asylum seekers who entered the EU via the UK for the period in which it is a member, even though it has announced its intention to leave the bloc.

The ruling is an affirmation of asylum procedures in Europe under the so-called Dublin rules, which gives EU member states the right to deport asylum seekers to their point of entry in the bloc.

What the ruling says:

  • "A Member State that has given notice of its intention to withdraw from the EU … remains the responsible State for the purposes of the Dublin III Regulation"
  • Triggering Article 50, which started Brexit proceedings, "does not have the effect of suspending the application of EU law in that Member State"
  • "Consequently, that law continues in full force and effect in that Member State until the time of its actual withdrawal from the EU"

Read more: Refugee children facing violence at EU borders

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Fleeing war and poverty

In late 2014, with the war in Syria approaching its fourth year and Islamic State making gains in the north of the country, the exodus of Syrians intensified. At the same time, others were fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger and Kosovo.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Seeking refuge over the border

Vast numbers of Syrian refugees had been gathering in border-town camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2011. By 2015, with the camps full to bursting and residents often unable to find work or educate their children, more and more people decided to seek asylum further afield.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

A long journey on foot

In 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people made their way on foot from Greece towards western Europe via the "Balkan route". The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel within much of the EU, was called into question as refugees headed towards the wealthier European nations.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Desperate sea crossings

Tens of thousands of refugees were also attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. In April 2015, 800 people of various nationalities drowned when a boat traveling from Libya capsized off the Italian coast. This was to be just one of many similar tragedies - by the end of the year, nearly 4,000 refugees were reported to have died attempting the crossing.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Pressure on the borders

Countries along the EU's external border struggled to cope with the sheer number of arrivals. Fences were erected in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria. Asylum laws were tightened and several Schengen area countries introduced temporary border controls.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Closing the open door

Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy claimed it had made the situation worse by encouraging more people to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. By September 2016, Germany had also introduced temporary checks on its border with Austria.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Striking a deal with Turkey

In early 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement under which refugees arriving in Greece could be sent back to Turkey. The deal has been criticized by human rights groups and came under new strain following a vote by the European Parliament in November to freeze talks on Turkey's potential accession to the EU.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

No end in sight

With anti-immigration sentiment in Europe growing, governments are still struggling to reach a consensus on how to handle the continuing refugee crisis. Attempts to introduce quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states have largely failed. Conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere show no signs coming to an end, and the death toll from refugee sea crossings is on the rise.

What happened?

A couple traveled to Ireland with their child after their UK visa expired and applied for asylum there. However, under Dublin rules, Ireland sought to return them to the first country through which they entered the EU, namely the UK.

With Brexit looming, Irish authorities went to the ECJ to determine how the UK's departure would affect asylum procedures, especially as they concern Dublin rules.

Read more: At Irish border, Brexit evokes history of violence

What does this mean for the UK?

The ruling reaffirms the UK's responsibility for the period in which it is an EU member state.

Despite launching withdrawal proceedings, British authorities continue to be responsible for taking back asylum seekers who first entered the EU through the UK and later went on to apply for protection in another member states.

Read more: How the EU's resettlement plan is failing to meet its goal

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