This report aims to identify discrepancies between the law and its practical application in the Dublin system on Lesvos, as well as highlight the ever-increasing number of challenges and obstacles that people experience when applying for family reunification under the Regulation. The proposed Pact on Migration and Asylum fails to address many of the existing issues. The right to family life is a fundamental human right and it is time for a European system that respects this right not only in theory, but also in practice.
Family is at the heart of personal and social life, and serves as the foundation upon which human beings depend on for their emotional, social and financial needs. It is therefore unsurprising that the forced separation of family members, which takes place frequently in a refugee context, has a detrimental impact on the mental and physical health of those affected. The importance of family life is recognized under international law as a human right. This right has also been emphasized by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in a decision that confirms that European Union (EU) Member States have both a negative obligation not to separate families, and a positive obligation to reunite family members.
The EU Regulation No. 604/2013 (‘Dublin III Regulation’) is one way in which a person applying for asylum can pursue reunification with their family members in the EU. The Dublin III Regulation (‘the Regulation’) is not an instrument of family reunification per se; instead, it determines which EU Member State is responsible for assessing the applicant’s asylum claim. In cases where the applicant has a family member who legally resides in another Member State, provided certain criteria established in the different Articles of the Regulation are met, that Member State should be responsible for examining the applicant’s application for international protection.
The Dublin system was designed to be a quick, straightforward process, reuniting family members before the asylum claim of the person who applies for reunification is assessed. However, in practice, it is riddled with issues and complications, including vague and restrictive definitions and time limits, unattainable thresholds, and the inconsistent application of articles under the Dublin III Regulation. People who apply to be reunited with their family members face a multitude of legal and practical obstacles to access this right. These barriers and issues are detailed throughout this report, and highlight a recurring theme: namely that people who are unable to access legal aid are entirely unequipped to navigate the Dublin process. Given that the vast majority of asylum seekers are not able to access such support, it follows that a large number of people who may have legitimate family reunification cases might not become aware of this possibility, let alone be able to exercise their right.