28 February 2014
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) declared on 27 February that, if a Member State chooses to provide material reception to asylum seekers in the form of a financial allowance rather than direct public services, the allowance must be enough to ensure a dignified standard of living and must enable asylum-seeking families with children to reside together.
According to the CJEU, such an allowance must be adequate for the health of applicants and ensure their subsistence, and must enable them to find housing, if necessary on the private rental market.
The CJEU orders that the financial allowance, in order to secure the best interests of the child, ‘must enable, if necessary, minor children of asylum seekers to be housed with their parents, so that the family unity … is maintained’. The Reception Conditions Directive only expressly requires direct state housing provision to preserve family unity, and only ‘as far as possible’.
In addition, the allowance must be provided from the time at which the asylum application is made.
The CJEU also provides important guidance on Member State obligations when the accommodation facilities specifically for asylum seekers are overloaded. According to the CJEU, nothing prevents the Member States from ‘referring the asylum seekers to bodies within the general public assistance system’, so long as this system upholds the minimum standards set out in the Directive. The CJEU points out that ‘saturation of the reception networks’ is not ‘a justification for any derogation from meeting those standards’.
The judgment of the CJEU arises from a dispute in Belgium over the obligations of the relevant state authorities to provide financial support to the Saciri family, who sought asylum in Belgium and were told that the reception agency was unable to provide accommodation. Unable to find private housing, the family sought financial aid but this was refused because they were not staying in state reception facilities, despite this being unavailable.
Professor Steve Peers states that the ‘judgment is a welcome confirmation that whatever the practical difficulties facing Member States in managing their reception for asylum seekers, families cannot simply be left homeless or forced to live in grossly inadequate conditions by means of the refusal of support for financial assistance to obtain housing’.