An Iraqi couple in their seventies forced from their Baghdad home by sectarian violence have spent the past two years bounced between detention centres in Greece and Belgium.
Many are caught in a legal limbo. With the notable exception of Sweden, Western governments — wary of letting in a seemingly never-ending stream of refugees from various countries — are not prepared to accept large numbers of Iraqis
The Iraqi couple's saga began after gunmen broke into their home in 2004 and threatened to kill them unless they paid $50,000. They fled Baghdad for Greece, hoping to later join their son, who has been recognized as a refugee in Belgium since 1999.
Journalists are not allowed into the Steenokkerzeel Detention Center near Brussels Airport where the couple is being held. Their Belgian attorney, Dirk Vanheule, asked that they not be identified by name because of the fear they could become targets if forced to return to Iraq.
When the couple reached Athens and applied for asylum two years ago, Greek authorities rejected their request and ordered them to leave Greece after a three-month detention.
They went to Brussels, and sought asylum when they arrived. Belgian authorities initially detained them, but then sent them back to Greece, where they were again placed in detention. The Greeks then issued a second expulsion order.
Belgian authorities argued that Greece was responsible for the couple's asylum claim under the EU's 2003 Dublin Regulation, which declares that the EU member state where asylum seekers first enter the EU is responsible for processing their claims.
But the regulation also allows that a different member state may take over a case for humanitarian reasons, particularly those based on family considerations.
The Iraqi couple, with no other place to go, returned to Brussels four months ago, and have been held incommunicado at Steenokkerzeel since then. On Thursday, a Belgian judge ordered their release but they were immediately arrested by officers of the Federal Aliens' Office and returned to detention, pending deportation to Greece.
Vanheule is now preparing an appeal on behalf of the couple to the European Court of Human Rights, stating the government's actions represent an abuse of human rights law and the principle of family reunification.
"By using a legal technicality, in practice what the Belgian state is doing is getting around the judicial review process that is guaranteed by law and is guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights," he said.