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EU member states are not obliged to hand out visas to people who intend to seek asylum in their country, after the EU’s top court ducked a chance to radically alter the bloc’s refugee policy.

The Court of Justice of the EU ruled Belgium was within its rights to refuse a visa to a family of potential Syrian asylum seekers, who said that they were at risk of torture and inhumane treatment.

A statement issued by the court said that “allowing third-country nationals to lodge applications for visas in order to obtain international protection in the Member State of their choice would undermine the general structure of the [EU’s asylum] system”.

In a previous opinion, an adviser to the court had suggested that member states should be compelled to hand out short-term visas to those at risk of torture or inhumane treatment. This would have radically altered the EU’s current policy on asylum, effectively enabling people to apply for asylum at embassies around the globe.

The case stemmed from a Syrian family who applied for short-term visas at the Belgian embassy in Lebanon. The couple, who were Orthodox Christian, and their three children lived in Aleppo in Syria intended to apply for asylum once in Belgium.

Granting such visas had long been demanded by some human rights groups and MEPs, who argue that the EU needs to provide refugees with “safe passage” to the bloc. At the moment, refugees face an often dangerous trip to Europe in order to apply for shelter.

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