Z.H. and R.H. v. Switzerland, Application No. 60119/12

The applicants, a married couple of Afghan asylum seekers, were facing a Dublin expulsion to Italy. The Swiss authorities expelled the second applicant to Italy while the first applicant was allowed to remain in Switzerland to pursue her asylum application. The first applicant was still a minor at the time. The expulsion of her husband – her only family member in Europe – caused her significant psychological distress, which led to a suicide attempt and a long hospitalisation. The applicants claimed inter alia a breach of Article 8 of the Convention because of an unjustified interference with their right to respect for family life.

The Court found that the Swiss authorities were justified in considering that the applicants were not married. In view of the fact that the first applicant was a minor, the Swiss authorities were not obliged to recognize their relationship. The Court concluded that there had not been a violation of Article 8.

In reaching this conclusion, the Court disappointingly focussed exclusively on the young age of the first applicant and gave little if any importance to the nature of their relationship nor the conduct of the Swiss authorities. The latter had de facto recognized and fostered the family life of the applicants by housing them together in an apartment destined for married couples. In addition, the Swiss authority in charge of the protection of minors had taken the position that the applicants enjoyed a bona fide relationship and that it was not in the first applicant’s best interest that she be separated from her spouse. The Swiss authorities at both the Cantonal and Federal levels had therefore clearly recognized a family relationship within the scope of Article 8 of the Convention. Only the separate concurring opinion of Judge Nicolaou appears to have acknowledged the core of the applicants’ complaint and its factual complexity.