CJEU – C-585/16 Haqbin, 12 November 2019

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Country of Applicant: 
Afghanistan
Date of Decision: 
12-11-2019
Citation: 
C‑233/18
Court Name: 
Court of Justice of the European Union (Grand Chamber)
Headnote: 
A sanction imposed in response of serious breaches of the rules of the accommodation centre or of seriously violent behaviour on behalf of an applicant for international protection cannot include withdrawal of material reception conditions relating to housing, food or clothing, even if it is temporary. Authorities should take into particular consideration any such sanction in cases of vulnerable applicants and unaccompanied minors.
Facts: 
Mr Haqbin, an Afghan minor, arrived in Belgium in 2015 and, following the appointment of a guardian, he was placed at the reception centre in Broechem. In 2016, he was involved in a fight among several residents of the reception centre of various ethnic origins. As a result, Mr. Haqbin was excluded from material support at the reception facility for 15 days and spent several nights sleeping in a park in Brussels and in houses of friends.
 
A few days after the imposition of the measure of exclusion, the appointed guardian sought to suspend its application before the Antwerp Labour Court but the case was dismissed due to lack of urgency. The guardian brought another challenge before the Brussels Labour Court seeking to cancel the measures imposed and asking for compensation for damages. The action was dismissed and an appeal with the Higher Labour Court of Brussels was lodged.

That court decided to stay the proceedings and submitted a reference for a preliminary ruling on the exhaustive nature of cases that may incur reduction/withdrawal of reception conditions, the obligation of the authorities to guarantee a dignified standard of living and considerations applying in cases where minors are involved.

Decision & Reasoning: 
The Court started its analysis by referring to Article 17 (1) & (2) of Directive 2013/33 and the obligation of Member States to provide material reception conditions that provide an adequate standard of living. In this context, the Court stressed that the second subparagraph of Article 17 (2) further requires that Member States ensure that that standard is actually met in cases of vulnerable applicants – such as unaccompanied minors.
 
Moving on to the examination of Article 20, the Court noted that the lack of a definition for the term “sanctions” used in Article 20 (4) allows Member States to determine what these sanctions may be. Looking into the aim and the scheme of the Directive, the Court considered that these sanctions may, in principle, concern material reception conditions, since the provision in question is part of Chapter III which is dedicated to the reduction and withdrawal of such conditions. Even if material reception conditions are explicitly mentioned in 20 (1) to (3), this does not mean that the generic term “sanction” in 20 (4) should never relate to material reception conditions, especially given that all measures under Article 20 aim to ensure that the reception system is not abused. Consequently, Member States should be able to adopt measures on material reception conditions in cases where the public order and safety of reception centres are put at risk.
 
With a reference to Recital 35 of the Directive and its judgment in Jawo (C‑163/17), the Court reiterated that any sanction in the context of Article 20 should not result in a situation that does not respect human dignity and is in violation of Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This interpretation is further supported by the existence of a proportionality requirement under Article 20 (5). Moreover, the obligation of Member States to ensure a dignified standard of living must be met with continuously and without interruption, including by way of supervision of whether the provision of reception conditions actually provides an adequate standard of living. It is the responsibility of the authorities to ensure that a sanction imposed under 20 (4) is proportionate and does not lead to a situation of undignified living conditions.
 
The Court also noted that sanctions under 20 (4) could also consist of measures that do not deprive applicants of material conditions but may take the form of residence in a specific part of the reception centre, a different reception centre altogether or prohibition of contact with certain residents. In any case, detention may be imposed in the context of Article 8(3)(e) of the Directive and as long as Articles 8 to 11 are complied with.
 
Lastly, where the person that the sanction under 20 (4) is imposed on is an unaccompanied minor in the meaning of Article 21 of that Directive, then authorities should take into particular consideration the minor’s vulnerability and the need for proportionality according to 20 (5). The best interests of the child and their safety must guide any balancing exercise, according to Article 23 (1) and (2), as well as Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Outcome: 

Article 20(4) and (5) of Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection, read in the light of Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, must be interpreted as meaning that a Member State cannot, among the sanctions that may be imposed on an applicant for serious breaches of the rules of the accommodation centres as well as seriously violent behaviour, provide for a sanction consisting in the withdrawal, even temporary, of material reception conditions, within the meaning of Article 2(f) and (g) of the directive, relating to housing, food or clothing, in so far as it would have the effect of depriving the applicant of the possibility of meeting his or her most basic needs. The imposition of other sanctions under Article 20(4) of the directive must, under all circumstances, comply with the conditions laid down in Article 20(5) thereof, including those concerning the principle of proportionality and respect for human dignity. In the case of an unaccompanied minor, those sanctions must, in the light, inter alia, of Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, be determined by taking particular account of the best interests of the child.

Observations/Comments: 

The judgment did not follow the Opinion of Advocate General Campos Sánchez-Bordona who had suggested an interpretation that would not preclude the withdrawal of material reception conditions, provided that that decision is accompanied by the prior involvement of the assistance services and/or the judicial authorities responsible for child protection, in such a way as to ensure that that minor will receive ongoing support appropriate for the specific needs which his age, status and situation require.

 

 

Case Law Cited: 

CJEU - C 163/17 Jawo, 19 March 2019

CJEU - C 83/14 CHEZ Razpredelenie Bulgaria, 16 July 2015
Attachment(s): 
Authentic Language: 
English
Country of preliminary reference: 
Belgium
National / Other Legislative Provisions: 
Article 45 of the Wet betreffende de opvang van asielzoekers en van bepaalde andere categorieën van vreemdelingen (Law of 12 January 2007 on the reception of asylum seekers and certain other categories of foreign nationals)