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Photograph: EPA/CHRISTIAN BRUNA

EU member states can impose residency restrictions on foreigners granted international protection if it helps with their integration, the bloc's top court ruled Tuesday, in a case brought by Syrians living in Germany.

Europe has been struggling to respond to an influx of migrants and asylum seekers over the last year, including people fleeing the war in Syria. However, the case in question relates to two Syrians who arrived far earlier, in 1998 and 2001.

Germany granted them subsidiary protection - awarded to people who are thought to be at risk of serious injury in their home country - as well as welfare benefits. But their residency permit was tied to a particular location in Germany.

Berlin argues that this practice helps to evenly distribute the cost of welfare benefits and makes it easier for people to integrate into German society.

The European Court of Justice said it is illegal under EU law to impose a residence condition in order to distribute welfare costs, but said it is permissible if the people in question face greater integration difficulties than other non-EU citizens.

The Luxembourg-based judges referred the case back to the German court handling the case. It must now determine whether this applies to the Syrian complainants.

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