CJEU decision in case C-79/13, Saciri and Others, 27 February 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

(Directive 2003/9/EC – Minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers in the Member States – Article 13(1) – Time-limits for material reception conditions – Article 13(2) – Provisions on material reception conditions – Guarantees – Article 13(5) – Setting and grant of minimum reception conditions for asylum seekers – Size of the aid granted – Article 14 – Modalities for material reception conditions – Saturation of the reception facilities – Referral to national social protection systems – Provision of the material reception conditions in the form of financial allowances)

Facts of the case

The Saciri family sought asylum in Belgium in October 2010 and were told by the agency responsible for providing reception to asylum seekers that they could not be provided with accommodation. Unable to find private housing, the family sought financial aid from another agency but this was refused because they were not staying in state reception facilities, despite this being unavailable. The initial reception agency was ordered by a judicial authority to provide financial assistance to the family. On appeal against this order, the Arbeidshof te Brussel (Brussels Higher Labour Court) sought clarification from the CJEU as to the state’s obligations under the Reception Conditions Directive to provide a financial allowance to asylum seekers.

Questions referred for a preliminary ruling

When a Member State elects, pursuant to Article 13(5) of [the Reception Conditions Directive], to provide the material support in the form of a financial allowance, does the Member State then still have any responsibility to ensure that the asylum applicant, in one way or another, enjoys the minimum protection measures of the Directive as contained in Articles 13(1), 13(2), 14(1), 14(3), 14(5) and 14(8) of the Directive?

Should the financial allowance, provided for by Article 13(5) of the Directive, be granted from the date of the application for asylum and the reception request, or from the expiry of the period provided for in Article 5(1) of the Directive, or from another date. Should the financial allowance be of such a nature that it allows the asylum seeker, in the absence of material reception facilities provided by the Member State or by an institution designated by the Member State, to provide for his own accommodation at all times, if necessary in the form of hotel accommodation, until such time as he is offered permanent accommodation or as he is able to acquire more permanent accommodation himself?

Is it compatible with the Directive that a Member State only grants the material reception facilities to the extent that the existing reception structures, as established by the State, are able to ensure that accommodation, and refers the asylum seeker who does not find place there for assistance which is available to all the residents of the State, without providing for the necessary statutory rules and structures so that institutions which have not been established by the State itself are effectively able to extend a dignified reception to the asylum applicants within a short period?

Consideration of the questions referred

The CJEU declares 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. In addition, the allowance must be provided from the time at which the asylum application is made. 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’.

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’.

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’.

Read the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

This item was reproduced with the permission of ECRE from the weekly ELENA legal update supported by the Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Funding Programme and distributed by email. The purpose of these updates is to inform asylum lawyers and legal organizations supporting asylum seekers and refugees of recent developments in the field of asylum law. Please note that the information provided is taken from publicly available information on the internet. Every reasonable effort is made to make the content accurate and up to date at the time each item is published but no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by ECRE, the IRC or its partners.

Accommodation centre
Best interest of the child
Family unity (right to)
Material reception conditions
Reception conditions