The state’s refusal to grant an immigrant legal status, even that of a stateless person, violated his private life.
Sudita Keita v. Hungary 12.05.2020 (no. 42321/15)
Unlawful legal situation and consequences in his private life.
The applicant, of non-native, Somali and Nigerian descent, entered Hungary in 2002. His efforts to determine his legal status were unsuccessful. He was recognized as a stateless person only in 2017 and only because in 2015 the Constitutional Court declared the legal residence in the country as an invalid provision of law that required as a condition for granting the status of stateless persons, claiming that the claim violated the obligations of public international law. He complained about the prolonged difficulties he had in settling his legal situation, with reported adverse effects on his access to health care, employment and his right to marry.
The European court found that the domestic authorities did not consider it necessary to inform the applicant of the possibility of applying for citizenship when the Nigerian authorities rejected his application for recognition of Nigerian citizenship. It also pointed out that, after the decision of the Constitutional Court of 23.02.2015, it took the national courts more than 2.5 years to publish a final decision in the case of the applicant, finally giving him the status of stateless.
The ECtHR therefore ruled that the State had not complied with its positive obligation to provide an effective and accessible procedure that would allow the applicant to determine the question of his legal status in Hungary.Violation of his right to respect for his private life (Article 8) and awarded the applicant 8,000 euros as non-pecuniary damage.
The applicant, Michael Sudita Keita, is a stateless person (of Somali and Nigerian descent) who was
born in 1985 and lives in Budapest.
The case concerned the difficulties in regularising his legal situation in Hungary over a period of
Mr Sudita Keita arrived in Hungary in 2002, submitting a request for recognition as a refugee. The
immigration authorities rejected it the same year.
He has continued to live in the country without any legal status, apart from one period from 2006 to
2008 when he was granted a humanitarian residence permit as an exile because he could not be
returned to Somalia while the civil war was ongoing and the Nigerian embassy in Budapest had
refused to recognise him as one of its citizens.
The authorities reviewed his exile status in 2008 and ordered his deportation in 2009, but it was not
Ultimately, in 2017, the Hungarian courts recognised him as a stateless person. His request had at
first been refused because he did not meet the requirement under the relevant domestic law of
“lawful stay in the country”. That requirement was, however, found unconstitutional in 2015.
He submits that he has been living with his Hungarian girlfriend since 2009 and completed a heavymachinery operator training course in 2010.
Relying in particular on Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European
Convention on Human Rights, Mr Sudita Keita complained about the authorities’ protracted
reluctance to regularise his situation, alleging that it had had adverse repercussions on his access to
healthcare and employment and his right to marry.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT…
In view of the nature of the applicant’s complaint and the fact that it is primarily for the domestic authorities to ensure compliance with the relevant Convention obligation, the Court considers that the principal question to be examined in the present case is whether, having regard to the circumstances as a whole, the Hungarian authorities, pursuant to Article 8, provided an effective and accessible procedure or a combination of procedures enabling the applicant to have the issues of his further stay and status in Hungary determined with due regard to his private-life interests.
In this respect, the Court notes that the applicant has been living in Hungary since 2002 with no recognised status in any other country. He has been living together with his Hungarian girlfriend since 2009 and has also completed a vocational training course (see paragraph 22 above); therefore, there can be no doubt that he has enjoyed private life in Hungary
The Court observes that the applicant’s legal status in Hungary was uncertain between 2002 and 11 October 2017, that is to say, for about fifteen years. Indeed, the only period when he had a valid, albeit temporary, humanitarian residence permit was between 19 July 2006 and 19 July 2008. This state of affairs resulted in long periods when he had no entitlement to healthcare or employment in Hungary. It was only on 11 October 2017 that, by virtue of the Budapest High Court’s decision, the applicant regained the said entitlement. In these circumstances, the Court accepts that the uncertainty of the applicant’s legal status had adverse repercussions on his private life
A further important element in the present case is the fact that the applicant is currently stateless .
The Court considers it important to note several aspects of the proceedings related to the applicant’s status in Hungary. It cannot subscribe to the Government’s arguments revolving around the consideration that Article 8 of the Convention cannot be interpreted as requiring the State to grant stateless status to a person. The applicant’s complaint does not concern the impossibility for him to obtain stateless status as such, but the general impossibility of regularising his status in Hungary for a fifteen-year-long period. The Court is therefore not called upon to examine whether the applicant should have been granted stateless status , but rather to examine whether he had an effective possibility of regularising his status, allowing him to lead a normal private life in Hungary
It was uncontested by the Government that the Nigerian embassy in Budapest had refused to recognise the applicant’s Nigerian citizenship at some time in 2006, rendering the applicant de facto stateless from that point in time. The Court observes that the domestic authorities, in disregard of the Government Decree, did not consider taking any relevant measures to inform the applicant about the possibility of applying for stateless status at that time
It is also to be emphasised that, up until the decision of the Constitutional Court removing the “lawful stay” requirement from section 76(1) of the RRTN Act, it was practically impossible for the applicant to be recognised as stateless as he did not meet that requirement. Thus, in reality, contrary to the principles flowing from the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the applicant, a stateless individual, was required to fulfil requirements which, by virtue of his status, he was unable to fulfil
The Court also observes that, following the decision of the Constitutional Court of 23 February 2015, it took the domestic courts until 11 October 2017 to reach a final decision in the applicant’s case, ultimately granting him stateless status.
Having regard to the combined effect of the above elements, the Court is not persuaded that, in the particular circumstances of the applicant’s case, the respondent State complied with its positive obligation to provide an effective and accessible procedure or a combination of procedures enabling the applicant to have the issue of his status in Hungary determined with due regard to his private-life interests under Article 8 of the Convention.
There has accordingly been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.
Just satisfaction: 8,000 euros (EUR) for non-pecuniary damage and EUR 4,000 for costs and expenses