Moria refugee site in Greece. PHOTO: DRC

The Dublin system keeps families apart

A new policy brief from the Danish Refugee Council shows how the current Dublin system keeps families apart, when they seek asylum in Europe. The brief shows how the rules are being implemented differently in different countries and how the Member States do not always take the best interests of the child into account, when making decisions about children in the Dublin procedure. Although the current proposal on the Dublin IV Regulation includes some improvements for families’ opportunities to reunite, there is still more to be done to ensure the rights of families and children in the Dublin procedure, DRC says ahead of this weeks’ meeting in the Justice and Home Affairs Council, where the Dublin reform is on the agenda on Tuesday.


When asylum seekers enter the European Union, family members do not always end up in the same country. Sometimes they flee at different times, sometimes they get separated underway, sometimes they have to take different routes and sometimes they get stuck while trying to cross a border. In all cases the result is the same; the family is separated and ends up in a bureaucratic maze in their attempt to get reunited. When that happens, DRC has many times experienced how the Dublin procedure in practise keep families separated and how the best interests of the child are often not taken adequately into consideration when authorities make decisions in accordance with the Dublin Regulation. 
“Families who have been forced to flee their home country and who have fought for their life, must often also fight for their right to family life in Europe by challenging the decisions of Member State authorities – a fight that many families do not win. The protracted appeals procedures along with burdensome administrative procedures result in families having to wait for months before they are allowed to reunite – and in many cases, they do not end up together,” says Eva Singer, Head of the Asylum Department at the Danish Refugee Council.
The new policy brief includes a range of cases, which illustrate how the narrow definition of ‘family member’ in the current Dublin III Regulation and the Member States’ limited use of the dependency clause and the discretionary clauses result in siblings, parents and unmarried couples being kept apart. Although the current proposals for a new Dublin IV Regulation include some good initiatives for families’ opportunities to reunite, there is still plenty of room for further improvements, Singer stresses. 
“With the reform of the Dublin III Regulation, we therefore call for a Dublin IV Regulation, which ensures that families are kept together and that the best interests of the child are always taken into account when Member State authorities make decisions based on the Dublin Regulation. This means that the Dublin system should ensure an expanded definition of family members, transparent and clear guidelines on how Member States should use the dependency clause and the discretionary clauses as well as access to high-quality free legal aid for all asylum seekers,” says Eva Singer. 
Example of case stories:
(Find more details regarding these cases as well as more cases in the paper)
One example is an 18-years-old Syrian man who came by boat to Greece, when he was 17 years and wanted to reunite with his older sister in Germany. The Greek authorities did not manage to send the request to Germany before he turned 18 years, so Germany refused to accept him, because they did not grant him the special guarantees of a minor and because they did not agree to accept the man due to humanitarian reasons. 
Another example is a Syrian woman who fled the war in Syria and arrived in Denmark. Here, five of her adult children had been granted residency permits as refugees. She had health issues and was in need of her children’s help. The Danish authorities decided that she had to return to Spain; her first country of entry, because she and her adult children were not considered family members according to the definition in the Dublin III Regulation and her health problems were not serious enough for her to be recognised as being ‘dependent’ on the help of her children.
An Eritrean couple had been together for five years until the man had to flee, because he feared for his life. He came to Denmark and was granted refugee status. Two years later, his girlfriend had to flee Eritrea. After arriving in Italy she lived on the streets for four days, before continuing her journey to Denmark. Here, she got pregnant and the couple married in November 2016. In February 2017, the Danish authorities decided she had to return to Italy together with the baby-to-come in May 2017. They did not recognize the couple as a family, because they were not married, when she applied for asylum. The Danish authorities also did not consider whether the decision would be in the best interest of the unborn child.
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) is a humanitarian, non-governmental, non-profit organisation working in more than 30 countries throughout the world. 
The Asylum Department in Denmark has for decades provided legal assistance to asylum seekers in all phases of the Danish asylum procedure, including in the Dublin-procedure. Since January 2014 – and with the implementation of the Dublin III Regulation – DRC represents most asylum seekers in the Danish Dublin procedure. 
DRC initiated its activities in Greece in November 2015 due to great humanitarian needs following the large influx of displaced populations in need of international protection. DRC currently implements a broad range of activities including Legal Aid to asylum seekers in the Dublin procedure.