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Court of Appeal rules on the admission of unaccompanied child asylum-seekers to the UK


The Court of Appeal has held that only in “especially compelling” cases will unaccompanied child asylum-seekers be permitted to enter the UK without first going through the procedures laid down by Regulation (EU) No 604/2013, the Dublin III Regulation.

In ZAT (Syria) and others, the Court considered the relationship between the Dublin Regulation, which determines the responsibility of EU Member States for examining and processing asylum applications, and Article 8 of the ECHR.

The respondents, three unaccompanied children and a disabled adult who had been living in the migrants’ camp in Calais known as ‘the jungle’, sought to be reunited with their family members in the UK. They argued that strict insistence on the application of the normal Dublin Regulation procedures – which would have required them to make an asylum application in France, and then to wait for France to decide whether to make a formal ‘take charge’ request of the UK – would have amounted to a disproportionate interference with their rights under Article 8. The Upper Tribunal agreed and ordered their immediate admission to the UK.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal rejected the Secretary of State’s submission that the Dublin Regulation automatically strikes the correct proportionality balance under Article 8. It confirmed that, in urgent and compelling cases, the need for swift family reunification – a fundamental principle of refugee law – may require the admission of an unaccompanied minor to the UK without the application of the usual Dublin Regulation mechanisms. However, it emphasised that only in “very exceptional circumstances” would applicants be permitted to enter the UK without having first sought recourse from the authorities and courts of the Member State in which they were located.

The Court held that the Upper Tribunal had failed to apply the correct legal test and allowed the appeal. However, the Secretary of State accepted that the UK was in fact the correct place for the respondents’ asylum claims to be determined, and did not seek their return to France. Two of the respondents have now been granted refugee status in the UK, with the other claims pending.

The judgment appears here.

Marie Demetriou QC and Andrew McIntyre appeared pro bono for the intervener, UNHCR.