Media release, July 4, 2023

SAJE wins appeal to the European Court of Human Rights

In its ruling rendered on July 4, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Switzerland in three of the four cases in which the State Secretariat for Migration refused to grant family reunification to individuals who partially relied on social assistance. The Service d'Aide Juridique aux Exilé-e-s (SAJE) lodged two appeals, one of which was successful.

When a person is granted protection status due to fleeing their country, they can obtain a B permit or temporary admission, with or without refugee status. Holders of a refugee B permit can bring in their immediate family, from whom they have been separated due to their flight, without any conditions. However, individuals who are only granted temporary admission must wait two years before they can apply and must be able to ensure the family's financial autonomy.

The judgment rendered by the ECHR addresses the compliance with human rights of the conditions for family reunification imposed by Swiss law. In all four situations, financial autonomy was deemed insufficient. The first case concerned a man seeking to bring his wife and their four children to Switzerland. He was financially autonomous but this would no longer be the case in the presence of his family. In the second case, the applicant was a single mother bringing up her three children and working part time. She sought to bring in her eldest daughter. In the third case, the applicant was a disabled mother seeking to bring in her daughter, who had remained in the home country. The fourth case involved a woman seeking to bring her two daughters, who had never been able to work in Switzerland due to severe mental health issues, although her disability was not recognized.

In these four cases, the Court weighed the competing interests between the applicants’ right to live together with their families (respect for family and private life, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and Switzerland's interests in controlling immigration and the associated costs.

The Court ruled that in the first three situations, the applicants could not be asked to do more and that Switzerland had therefore violated Article 8 of the Convention by refusing family reunification. However, in the last situation, it held that the applicant should have made greater efforts to achieve financial autonomy and that Switzerland had therefore not violated Article 8. The Court also emphasizes that such proceedings must be dealt with as expeditiously as possible. 

HEKS/EPER welcomes this ruling by the Court, which between the lines, reminds us that people who flee their countries in the context of persecution and war are very often compelled to engage in precarious jobs, that provide little opportunity to balance family and professional life and offer low wages. The Court therefore takes into account the actual situation of these people, rather than the abstract requirements of the law. HEKS regrets, however, that the personal distress of the last applicant was not sufficiently taken into account to explain her lack of financial autonomy. On the substance, HEKS deplores the difference in treatment between B permits and provisional admissions, considering that the family cannot reunite in a country other than Switzerland and that family reunification is a key factor in the integration of individuals. 

Joëlle Herren
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Joëlle Herren

Direct: 021 613 44 59
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Information and help for asylum seekers

SAJE is one of five HEKS/EPER legal advice offices in Switzerland. It aims to inform, guide and defend asylum seekers, temporary admission holders and rejected asylum seekers in the Canton of Vaud. SAJE also provides advocacy based on its experience with asylum seekers. HEKS/EPER also has legal advice offices in the cantons of Zurich, Basel, St. Gallen, Solothurn and Aargau.