Amid heated arguments among EU members over the mass influx of asylum seekers from Asia and Africa, a top European Union court has ruled that migrants or foreigners cannot be jailed simply for crossing into a member country illegally.
The ruling on Tuesday by the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) refers to a case which predates the refugee debate dominating politics across the 28-nation bloc.
In 2013, before the current influx of migrants, a Ghanaian woman, Selina Affum, was apprehended in France as she was about to enter the Channel Tunnel while taking a bus from Belgium to the United Kingdom, which is not a member of the passport-free Schengen zone.
She presented only a Belgian passport with another name and photograph, upon which French authorities took her into custody for illegally entering the country.
Affum challenged the arrest and a French court asked the ECJ to rule whether she could be imprisoned based on EU return directives. The directives are designed to establish common standards and procedures for member states when removing non-EU nationals who are staying in their territory illegally.
“The Return Directive prevents a national of a non-EU country who has not yet been subject to the return procedure being imprisoned solely because he or she has entered the territory of a Member State illegally across an internal border of the Schengen area,” the court said in a statement.
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