By Ulrike Brandl, Ass. Prof. at the Faculty of Law, University of Salzburg & Philip Czech, Senior Scientist at the Austrian Human Rights Institute, University of Salzburg

The last years have seen a major shift in European states’ policy in the field of asylum and migration towards an increasingly muscular surveillance of external borders. This trend has already found its resonance in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Following this shift, the major issue that links several of the most crucial judgments delivered in the past years regards states’ obligations arising from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to receive applications for international protection at their external borders or at the high seas and to preliminarily allow persons seeking protection to stay on their territory or under their jurisdiction until their claim has been decided on. From a legal point of view, the focus not only lies on Article 3 ECHR and its inherent non refoulement obligation but also on a right that had not played a significant role for quite a long time: the prohibition of collective expulsion enshrined in Article 4 of Protocol n°4 to the European Convention on Human Rights. The conclusion that this obligation does not allow the denial of access to the territory without an individualised decision is uncontested. The jurisprudence however still leaves scope for further clarifications what exactly is an individualised decision and inasmuch as a “culpable conduct” on the part of applicants can justify to reject them at the border without examining their individual circumstances.

In N.D. and N.T. vs Spain the Grand Chamber took the chance to clarify the implementations of the prohibition of collective expulsion for the Spanish policy of “hot returns” or push-backs at its enclave in Melilla; the Grand Chamber also established a new and still unclear connection between collective expulsion and legal pathways to submit applications for international protection. The most recent judgment in the case of M.K. vs Poland, delivered on 23 July 2020, provides some further guidance regarding the interpretation of the prohibition of collective expulsion and states’ obligations regarding asylum seekers arriving at their borders.

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By Iris Goldner Lang, Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law and Holder of the UNESCO Chair on Free Movement of People, Migration and Inter-Cultural Dialogue, University of Zagreb.

I am grateful to Philippe de Bruycker, Tamara Ćapeta and Romain Lanneau for their help and comments.

Since the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement (see here and here on this blog) in March 2016 until 28 February 2020, the Greek-Turkish border had been mostly closed, with Turkey hosting around 3.6 million Syrian refugees (out of a total of over 4 million refugees). On 28 February 2020, Turkey announced that it would no longer stop migrants and refugees trying to enter the EU. According to the Greek media, the following day more than 4,000 persons repeatedly tried to cross the Greek border. The border was opened only on the Turkish side, as the Greek police stopped everybody who tried to cross the border, by using tear gas and rubber bullets. The situation continued to escalate in the following weeks with tens of thousands of people gathering on the Turkish side after having been reportedly taken there by Turkish buses. At the same time, Greece decided to suspend all asylum applications for one month. (on this blog see here and here about the geopolitical context of this crisis).

The Greek border conduct was strongly supported and praised by EU leaders. The President of the European Commission openly thanked Greece as Europe’s “shield” in blocking the entry to the EU and promised financial and material support, as well as the deployment of Frontex. On top of this, the Commission has refused to release a preliminary legal assessment of the Greek decision to temporarily freeze all asylum applications. In the meantime, the number of people trying to cross the border considerably decreased.

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by Galina Cornelisse, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam & Madalina Moraru, Masaryk University Brno, authors of Law and Judicial Dialogue on the Return of Irregular Migrants from the European Union (Hart Publishing, 2020)

The concept of judicial dialogue that is central to our book Law and Judicial Dialogue on the Return of Irregular Migrants from the European Union shows that in times characterised by legislative stalemate and crisis driven governance, courts and judicial interactions serve as important guarantors for the rule of law. As such they also set standards for policy-making that the institutions would be wise to engage with in the ongoing legislative process.


The Covid and perceived refugee crisis have seen a relapse of asylum and immigration policies across Europe towards executive driven policy making – both on the European level as on the level of the Member States. In this context the role of courts becomes especially salient and as such, a close look at the contribution of courts to the implementation of the Return Directive is more than timely. The contributors to our book show that European and domestic courts have played a crucial role in transforming the Return Directive from a ‘Directive of Shame’ to a positive normative example for legal orders around the globe. Judicial interactions in particular have been key for this policy transformation by giving the courts tools to act as gatekeepers for human rights protection and effective implementation of the Directive.

This has not been easy, since the task of those courts involved striking the right balance between competing objectives: they have been required to reconcile the demands of an effective return policy with the protection of the human rights of third-country nationals, or they had to find a compromise between traditions of judicial deference to administrative prerogatives over migration and the enhancement of legal accountability that is the direct consequence of introducing European legislation in this area. The 2018 Proposal for the Recast of the Return Directive put forward by the European Commission has brought back the debate on the design of return management and the vertical and horizontal allocation of powers.

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By Boldizsár Nagy, Central European University

On 14 May 2020 the Grand Chamber of the CJEU delivered its judgment in the urgent preliminary ruling procedures concerning an Afghan couple (FMS and FNZ) and an Iranian father and son (SA and SA junior) all being held in the transit zone of Röszke in Hungary. The judgment (of which no English text exists yet) is of major importance for several reasons: it confirms that holding of asylum applicants at the external border in the transit zone is detention, clarifies that such detention must be necessary and proportionate, be ordered  in a formal decision and entail judicial review and must not go beyond the limits of the border procedure as defined by the Asylum Procedures Directive. It also rejects the extension of the inadmissibility grounds of the Procedures Directive, by adding the new ground of “safe transit country”.

Interestingly, it makes evident that the judgment of the Grand Chamber in the Ilias and Ahmed case of the ECtHR adopted in November 2019 was wrong in evaluating the facts and finding that the “waiting” in the transit zone was not detention and makes clear that the ECtHR judgment now is largely irrelevant as it would only apply to border-procedure cases which are absent from Hungary’s practice since 2017. This blog post reviews the judgment (I) as well as the Hungarian Government’s reaction to it (II) with the adoption of a procedure which presumes that asylum seekers get legal access to Hungary after applying for a travel document at Hungary’s embassies outside of the Schengen area.

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By Majd Achour & Thomas Spijkerboer, Amsterdam Centre for Migration and Refugee Law.

You can find here the Arab original and Majd Achour’s English translation of the writ of summons, the Arab original and Majd Achour’s English translation of the Tripoli Court of Appeal Judgement, the Arab original and Majd Achour’s English translation of the Libyan Supreme Court Judgement.


The bilateral agreements between Italy and Libya which entered into force on 4 February 2009 were fatally undermined by the Strasbourg court’s ruling in Hirsi Jamaa and others against Italy. On 2 January 2017, a new Memorandum of Understanding  (Italian version here and English version here, analysed in this blog) was signed between Libya and Italy which aims at developing cooperation in different fields including the fighting against irregular migration. In this new agreement, Italy has changed its strategy from push-backs to pull-back operations to Libya. These operations are coordinated, equipped and funded by Italy while carried out by the Libyan coast guard which would also make sure that intercepted asylum seekers will be detained thereafter in Libya pending the voluntary or forced return to their countries of origin. In March 2017, a case was brought before the Tripoli Court of Appeal challenging the MoU. The Tripoli Court of Appeal suspended the MoU by way of interim injunction. In the appeal against that injunction, the Libyan Supreme Court declared the appeal admissible and ruled that the contested ruling, issued by the Tripoli Court of Appeal, was to be annulled due to the lack of functional jurisdiction. The Supreme Court thereby ended the entire lawsuit.

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 Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen is a professor with special responsibilities in migration and refugee law at the Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen and Nikolas Feith Tan is a researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

On 5 May 2020, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down its long-awaited decision in MN and Others v. Belgium, a case testing whether a Syrian family’s humanitarian visa application at the Belgian embassy in Beirut triggered the state’s human rights law obligations. In a majority decision, the Court held that the process of applying for a visa in person did not bring the applicants within European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) jurisdiction, declaring the case inadmissible.

The decision has already been the subject of a number of scholarly reactions, ranging from reflections on refugees’ exclusion from the international legal order (here), the strategic value of the case and implications for legal pathways to protection (here), the exercise of public powers and conduct of diplomatic agents (here) and a comparison of the approaches of the Inter-American and European human rights courts’ on diplomatic asylum (here).

But the underlying question – whether asylum-seekers applying for a visa at an embassy or consulate trigger the non-refoulement principle – is also a long-standing and contested issue in refugee law scholarship. Following a short recapitulation of the facts and conclusions of the ECtHR, we address the contribution of MN and Others to this question and suggest some implications for future extraterritorial jurisdiction jurisprudence. Continue reading »