Migrant transit center on the border between Hungary and Serbia
Migrant transit center on the border between Hungary and Serbia

The European Commission's legal request could lead to the EU's top court imposing financial sanctions against Hungary. Brussels has also opened a new infringement procedure against Hungary's "Stop Soros" laws.

The European Commission on Thursday stepped up legal proceedings against Hungary over its restrictive treatment of migrants and failure to comply with EU asylum rules.

The Commission announced it was turning to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over Hungary's "non-compliance of its asylum and return legislation with EU law."

It marks the third and final step in Brussels' legal procedure against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, which has been ongoing since December 2015. Hungary's could ultimately be slapped with financial sanctions should the ECJ confirm the Commission's line.

The EU's executive branch also opened up a new infringement procedure against Hungary over its new "Stop Soros" law, which criminalizes support for asylum-seekers.

Migrants in Hungary facing indefinite detention

In a statement, the Commission accused the Orban government of failing to provide migrants with effective access to asylum procedures.

Hungary only allows people to submit asylum applications at its "transit centers" on its border. Migrants are therefore often held and forced to wait in these special zones for significantly longer than the maximum four weeks allowed under EU rules. "The Commission considers that the indefinite detention of asylum-seekers in transit zones without respecting the applicable procedural guarantees is in breach of EU rules," it said in a statement.

Budapest also stands accused of breaching EU guarantees for migrants sent back to their countries of origin and transit. According to the Commission, "migrants risk being returned without the appropriate safeguards" under Hungarian legislation.

Hungary's 'Stop Soros' laws

Brussels also denounced the Hungarian government for its "Stop Soros" law, which seeks to restrict non-governmental organizations supported by US financier George Soros.

One of the most controversial aspects of the new legislation is the criminalization of providing assistance to migrants with their asylum and residence applications. In extreme cases, activists and NGO employees face up to a year in prison for "assisting illegal migration" into Hungary.

The Commission said the "Stop Soros" bill curtails asylum claimants' rights to approach national, international and non-governmental organizations for help. It also introduces several new criteria to submit asylum applications that limit migrant's rights and infringe on EU laws.

Budapest has two months to respond to the European Commission's letter of notice.

dm/ng (Reuters, AP, dpa)

First published: July 19, 2018

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