Childhood’s End? The Court of Justice upholds unaccompanied child refugees’ right to family reunion
by Professor Steve Peers, University of Essex
Turning 18 is a big moment in any young person’s life. Although it rarely entails, by itself, an immediate change in their social and economic links with their parents, it is widely recognised as a significant rite of legal passage, marking as it does the official date of becoming an adult.
But what if the main legal impact of turning 18 is not the enhancement of a young person’s legal rights, but rather their deterioration? That is often the scenario in immigration or asylum law, in particular for those who need protection the most: unaccompanied minors. Since immigration and asylum procedures often take some time, the question then arises what happens if applicants are underage when a process began, but become an adult before it finishes. Do they retain throughout that process the special legal protection accorded to children? At what point exactly does that special legal status end?
That was the issue in yesterday’s judgment in A and S, which was the first time the Court of Justice has ruled on the family reunion rights of child refugees. The judgment concerns the EU’s family reunion Directive, which contains special rules for the family reunion of refugees in general, and unaccompanied minor refugees in particular. However, it is possible that it has an impact on the status of young people in EU immigration and asylum law more generally.