The EU’s top court has ruled that a law requiring refugees to seek asylum in the first country they reach applies even in exceptional circumstances, BBC reports.
The case, brought by Austria and Slovenia, could affect the future of several hundred people who arrived during the migrant crisis of 2015-16.
The ruling concerns two Afghan families and a Syrian who applied for asylum after leaving Croatia.
The court says it is Croatia’s responsibility to decide their cases.
The crisis unfolded during the summer of 2015, as one million migrants and refugees travelled through the Western Balkans.
Under the so-called Dublin regulation, refugees typically have to seek asylum in the first EU state they reach. But Germany suspended the Dublin regulation for Syrian refugees, halting deportations to the countries they arrived in.
From August 2015, hundreds – and sometimes thousands – arrived in Austria every day, initially via Hungary and later through Slovenia.
Many wanted to travel on to Germany, but around 90,000 applied for asylum in Austria, equivalent to about 1% of its population.
The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule, are economic migrants.