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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU states must give entry visas to people at risk of torture or inhuman treatment, the European Court of Justice's top adviser said on Tuesday, a move which critics have said could open up a new route for refugees into Europe.
The advocate general's comments are not binding but are usually followed by the court which is due to rule on a test case in the next few weeks that could affect policy across all EU member states.
The case focuses on a family from the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo who applied for a visa to stay with acquaintances in Belgium in October.
Belgian authorities refused the visa a week later, arguing they were not obliged to admit everyone from a war zone, triggering a legal challenge from the would-be hosts.
The advocate general said on Tuesday that, given the current situation in Syria, "the Belgian State was not entitled to conclude that it was exempted from its positive obligation under Article 4 of the Charter," referring to the European Union's rulebook on human rights.
Many EU states say they are already struggling to process and care for hundreds of thousand of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa who make the perilous journey to the European Union, then apply for asylum on arrival.
Belgian authorities argued that giving visas to people from war zones would encourage still more arrivals.
"We are really not going to throw our gates open wide through our embassies and consulates," Belgian immigration minister Theo Francken told reporters in November.
At the time, he said he was ready to sell off his office furniture to pay for daily fines rather than honour a court ruling in favour of the Syrian family.
Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek, additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Andrew Heavens