ECJ: Domestic violence is one of the reasons women leave

In this particular case, a Kurdish woman with Turkish citizenship had applied for international protection in Bulgaria. She was forced to marry but got divorced. She was later threatened by her ex-husband and his family and feared she would be the victim of an “honour killing”.

The ECJ has now ruled that women can be recognized as refugees or granted subsidiary protection in such circumstances. Judges in Bulgaria will now decide the case on a case-by-case basis – but they must adhere to the ECJ's case law. Refugee status refers to persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.

Subsidiary protection applies to any third-country national who does not meet the criteria for recognition as a refugee, but who has demonstrated reasonable grounds to believe that he would suffer serious harm if he were to return to his refugee status. Country of origin, in particular: if at real risk of being killed or subjected to violence.


The European Court of Justice (ECJ) interprets EU law and ensures that it is applied correctly in all member states. It decides on legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions and in some cases may be brought before individuals.

Women as a “Social Group”

In this sense, women can be seen as a “social group”. “Consequently, they may be granted refugee status if they are subjected to physical or psychological violence, including sexual violence and domestic violence, in their country of origin because of their gender,” the ECJ ruled.

Especially when they are actually killed or subjected to other acts of violence or threatened by members of the community for violating cultural, religious or traditional norms. Subsidiary protection may be granted if this requirement is not met, but a woman is at risk of “serious harm” such as execution, murder or other inhuman or degrading treatment.

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For justification, the ECJ refers to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence since 2011. The Istanbul Convention is binding on the European Union and recognizes gender-based violence against women as a form of harassment. The Convention is the first international binding instrument to comprehensively combat all forms of violence against women in Europe; The Convention entered into force in Austria on 1 August 2014.

FPÖ sees “dam bursting”.

Criticism of the ruling came from the FPÖ. “The ruling is further evidence of how the ECJ is fueling illegal mass immigration through its case law and is, in fact, a 'break of the dam' in the direction of all people in the world affected by forced marriages or other developments. Archaic cultures in their homelands must “give us the right to asylum and immigration.” said EU delegation head Harald Wilimski and FPÖ defense spokesman Hannes Amesbauer.

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