Family reunification Directive: a common Christian concern
In February 2012, COMECE and other Christian organisations published their Comments on the European Commission´s Green Paper on the right of family reunification of third-country nationals living in the European Union.
The Comments on the Green Paper reflect the common understanding on family reunification by the Churches throughout Europe – Anglican, Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic – as well as Christian agencies particularly concerned with migrants and asylum seekers.
Churches attach the highest importance to marriage and the family, to the social conditions facilitating family life and to the international, European and national legal frameworks related to the possibility of founding a family and living as a family, since the family is “the natural and fundamental group unit of society” (Article 16.3 Universal Declaration of Human Rights). It is of central importance to the Christian view to recall the primary objective of the Directive and of the national legislation flowing from it: to facilitate and enable family life. The current Directive, its transposition and implementation, will in some aspects require improvements in the legislation and practice of the Member States.
In proposing to remove any unjustified barrier to family life - which is often primarily an expression of short-term considerations - Christian organisations would argue for family reunification to take place as early as possible, in the interests of family life, but also of the host societies; because full integration of migrants in a new country largely depends, among other things, on a person’s opportunity for living with his/her family.
Post-arrival integration measures will strengthen the position of the migrating members of the family through, for example, access to affordable language learning, targeted programmes in academic and vocational training, independent residence status and, in cases of violence in the family, support for shelters. Christian organisations should make sure that migrating family members have access, as early as possible, to the labour market, to education and training.
Concerning the material conditions which sponsors of family reunification need to fulfil to be eligible to request reunification with their family, Christian organisations would argue that the general guiding principle should be equal treatment with EU citizens. The adequacy of accommodation should be viewed in relation to health and safety standards as well as in comparison with housing deemed appropriate/habitable for use by nationals. Families should not be required to manage with resources which are below the standard minimum income/minimum subsistence levels of families of nationals.
EU Member States should apply the principle of proportionality in imposing fees for granting family reunification, so that the purpose of the Directive is not undermined by exorbitant fees.
Given the particular vulnerability of refugees and subsequent potential difficulties in fulfilling certain material conditions, the provisions of Chapter V (“Family reunification of refugees”) of the Directive need to be maintained and extended to all beneficiaries of international protection.
With respect to possible fraud and abuse of this right to family reunification, Christian organisations welcome the Commission’s call for hard facts to inform the debate. The situation is that an application for family reunification is not a priori assumed to be legitimate but rather, on the contrary. suspected first to be fraudulent. There is an unfortunate shifting of the burden of proof: third-country nationals have to prove that their family relations are not fraudulent, rather than the authorities needing to prove the fraud. Determining the allegedly fraudulent or forced nature of a marriage is an extremely complex and delicate undertaking. Intentions and consent of those entering into a marriage should be the decisive factors for assessing the validity of a marriage.
Christian organisations ask for more coherent national legislation and practice on family reunification across the EU, which acknowledges and protects the right to family reunification, allows for a family reunification as early and as fully as possible, and tries to achieve empowerment by making rights a reality.
José Luis Bazán