On 22 September 2022, the Court of Justice of the EU held that the suspension of a decision to transfer an asylum seeker to the Member State responsible for processing their request, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, does not interrupt the six-month time limit under the Dublin III Regulation.
In 2019, the three applicants had applied for asylum in Germany. But Italy was the Member State responsible for processing their applications, as they had previously applied for international protection there. The German authorities requested Italian ones to take charge of the applicants based on the Dublin III Regulation, which establishes criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining applications for international protection. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Italian authorities considered that the transfers could not take place in February 2020. Thus, in March and April 2020, the German authorities suspended the removal orders of the applicants, as their implementation was materially impossible.
In June and August 2020, a German administrative court annulled the decisions to deport the applicants to Italy, finding that Germany had become responsible for examining the asylum applications due to the expiry of the time limit for transfer under the Dublin III Regulation. That time limit was not interrupted by the decisions to suspend their transfer, the administrative court held. On appeal, the higher court was unsure about whether the decisions to suspend the transfer had indeed not interrupted the time limit for transfer and referred the case to the Court of Justice of the EU in a preliminary ruling proceeding.
The Court of Justice held that the suspension decisions did not interrupt the time limit. The Court mainly held that the objective of the six-month time limit under Dublin III Regulation is precisely to ensure that the asylum seekers be transferred rapidly to the Member State responsible for deciding on their case. Allowing Member States to suspend transfer decisions on grounds with no link to the judicial protection of the asylum seekers would risk rendering ineffective the time limit for transfer. That would jeopardize the division of responsibilities between Member States and substantially prolong the processing of applications for international protection. Here, the material impossibility to transfer the asylum seekers due to the COVID-19 pandemic could not justify the interruption of the time limit, as the suspension decisions were not linked to the applicants’ judicial protection.
Reference: Joined Cases C-245/21 and C-248/21, Federal Republic of Germany v MA, PB, LE, ECLI:EU:C:2022:709.