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Restrictive laws prevent families from reuniting


Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights, is criticizing the Member Staats for introducing strict requirements for family migration. It is becoming more and more difficult for immigrants in Europe to have their family members join them. Even long-term residents and naturalised citizens are being deprived of this human right as policies in host countries are now becoming more restrictive and selective. Applicants have to fulfil unreasonable requirements which create insurmountable obstacles to them to living with their loved ones.

The requirements for family reunification can involve an obligation to prove ties to the host country through difficult integration tests. In several countries the applicant is required to demonstrate that he or she has a safe income and can provide decent accommodation. Moreover, only individuals within the biological nuclear family are considered for reunification – irrespective of other close relationships and dependences.

One example is the Netherlands. To be allowed to join family members there, migrants have to pass a test on Dutch society and language in their country of origin. The ‘integration exam’ is taken at a Dutch embassy or consulate, offices which are not within reach for everyone. For instance, people from Afghanistan cannot attend Dutch language lessons in their country and have to go as far as New Delhi to find a Dutch embassy.

Harsher demands raise concern

The new Dutch government has – in agreement with the Freedom Party – decided to introduce much stricter requirements for family migration “focusing on restricting and reducing the number”. It has also made clear its intention to work in the same spirit for a review of the EU Directive on the right to family reunification.

Parts of the new Dutch policy appear to be inspired by measures previously introduced in Denmark. There the minimum age for spouses who wish to reunite was raised to 24 years of age. In addition, the right to family reunification for children was made available only until the child turns 15, a decision not in line with international standards which define a child as a person below the age of 18.

In Sweden persons without a valid passport are generally prevented from qualifying for family reunification. Stricter formal rules concerning identification have made it impossible for many Somali children to reunite with their parents.

Another problem in several European countries is the slow processing of applications for family migration - even for those who can meet the strict conditions. Even in the most urgent cases the decisions now tend to come with long delays. This appears to be intentional.

We know that for many immigrants the separation from family members is a severe hardship, sometimes even a trauma which affects social and psychological well-being. For the children, who in many cases are waiting in their country of origin, the drawn out separation is certainly difficult - which in turn becomes a burden on the applicant in the host society. Obviously, living in these circumstances makes integration in the new country more complicated.

Family reunion is a right – and leads to better integration

The present trend to put further limits on family unity does not respect agreed human rights standards. The right to respect for family life is guaranteed by international conventions; in particular by the European Convention on Human Rights, the revised European Social Charter, the European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly’s Recommendation 1686 (2004) on human mobility and the right to family reunion recommends less strict conditions for migrant applicants in respect to financial guarantees, health insurance and housing and, in particular, to avoid discrimination against women migrants and refugees which could result from the imposition of such measures.

The main message is that immigrants and refugees, who are lawfully residing in a state, should be able to reunite with their family members as soon as possible, without going through laborious procedures. Being denied the human right to be with one’s family makes life more burdensome – and integration much more difficult.

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