Women refugees adopting gender equality can receive asylum: EU court

The decision requires such women -- including minors -- to show they "genuinely" hold that principle dear after lengthy stays in an EU country, and that adhering to it clashes with norms in their country of origin.
An interior view of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg in 2018. (Photo: AFP)
An interior view of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg in 2018. (Photo: AFP)

LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG (AFP) - Women refugees adopting the European Union's principle of gender equality can be considered deserving of asylum status, the European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday.

The decision requires such women -- including minors -- to show they "genuinely" hold that principle dear after lengthy stays in an EU country, and that adhering to it clashes with norms in their country of origin.

That would make them "a particular social group" with grounds to fear or suffer persecution in that country, the court said.

The ruling arose from the case of two Iraqi teenagers who had been living in the Netherlands since 2015 and whose asylum applications had been rejected.

The two resubmitted, saying they had adopted the norms and values of Dutch peers. Returning them to Iraq, which does not offer women and girls the same rights as men, would leave them unable to adapt, they said.

They stated that they therefore feared "being exposed to a risk of persecution due to the identity which they have formed in the Netherlands," according to the EU court's statement.

When Dutch authorities rejected that new application, the Iraqi women took the case to court in the Netherlands and it was kicked up to the European Court of Justice to decide interpretation of refugee law in this matter.

The court found that women in such a situation -- with lengthy residence in an EU country -- had grounds to ask for their adoption of that country's gender norms to be taken into account, "especially where it coincides with a period during which an applicant who is a minor has formed his or her identity".

Under European and international laws on asylum and international protection, migrants seeking refugee status need to show they have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in their origin country.

That persecution is limited to grounds of race, nationality, religious or political convictions -- or membership of a special social group, such as LGBTQ communities, or women who have not undergone female genital mutilation in societies valuing FGM.

The presiding judge in Tuesday's ruling, Koen Lenaerts, said that migrant women who "have come to identify with the fundamental values of equality between women and men, may be regarded as belonging to a particular social group," depending on their origin country and their length of stay in an EU country.

That could constitute "grounds for persecution capable of leading to the granting of refugee status," he said.

Asylum applications in the EU are handled at national level, but appeals can go all the way to the European Court of Justice. Cases dealing with human rights aspects can also be heard in the European Court of Human Rights, a pan-continental body whose rulings are binding on EU member countries.