(CN) - Belgium must pay for asylum-seeking families to rent on the private market when federal housing facilities are full, Europe's highest court ruled Thursday.
After the Saciri family came to Belgium in 2010, they found themselves unable to find public housing and could not afford to rent a private home. Welfare agents rejected the family's request for financial aid, saying they should have stayed in a federal reception facility - the same facility officials said was full when the family first arrived in Belgium.
A Belgian court awarded the Saciris $4,063 - three months' minimum guaranteed income for a person with a dependent family - and ordered authorities to find a place for them in the reception facility. Both Belgium and the Saciris appealed that order, with the family claiming that the government owed them for the entire time they spent homeless.
The high labor court in Brussels asked the Court of Justice of the European Union whether member states are obligated to provide enough money for immigrants to find housing when reception facilities are full, and whether that obligation began as soon as they lodged their asylum applications.
In its ruling, the EU high court noted that respect for human dignity requires providing asylum seekers with housing, food and clothes, regardless of the cost to the state.
"Where a member state has opted to provide the material reception conditions in the form of financial allowances, those allowances must be sufficient to ensure a dignified standard of living and adequate for the health of applicants and capable of ensuring their subsistence by enabling them to obtain housing, if necessary, on the private rental market," the court wrote, adding that the requirements don't entitle asylum seekers to choose any house they want.
"Given that the member states have a certain margin of discretion as regards the methods by which they provide the material reception conditions, they may thus make payment of the financial allowances using the bodies which form part of the general public assistance system as intermediary provided that those bodies ensure that the minimum standards laid down in that directive as regards the asylum seekers are met," the court concluded.