Many migrants wait at the Hungarian border at the height of the crisis in 2015 | Photo: Picture Alliance / AP Photo/ P. David Josek
Many migrants wait at the Hungarian border at the height of the crisis in 2015 | Photo: Picture Alliance / AP Photo/ P. David Josek

The European Commission sent a "reasoned opinion" to Hungary on Thursday, January 24 regarding measures the country took to criminalize support for migrants as well as restricting the right to request asylum in the first place.

The EU’s decision to send a "reasoned opinion" to Hungary is the second step in a three step infringement procedure which began in July 2018. The European Parliament also has an ongoing procedure to sanction Hungary for violating certain fundamental European Union values.

A statement from the European Commission stated that their concerns, expressed in a letter from July 2018, had "still not been addressed," highlighting three points in particular: "Criminalization of support to asylum applicants, restriction of individual freedoms, and unlawful limitation of the right to asylum."

‘Stop Soros laws’

The EU Commission is questioning Hungary's so-called "Stop Soros laws". George Soros is the Hungarian-born pro-democracy philanthropist who now holds US citizenship. The laws essentially seek to criminalize individuals or groups who offer help to those who arrived illegally in the country and then seek to claim asylum. One effect of these laws is a restriction of the activities carried out by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The Billionaire George Soros has been the target of some of Hungarys laws  Photo Reuters  Luke MacGregor

Back in July, the Hungarian interior minister, Sandor Pinter, reportedly justified the draft legislation by saying: "the Hungarian people rightfully expect the government to use all means necessary to combat illegal immigration and the activities that aid it."

Curtailing rights

In January 2019, the EU pointed out that by criminalizing the support of asylum applicants, the Hungarian legislation was "curtailing asylum applicants’ rights to communicate with and be assisted by relevant national, international and non-governmental organizations by criminalizing their support of asylum applications." This, the Commission said, was in direct violation of two EU 2013 directives, (Asylum Procedures Directive and Reception Conditions Directive).

The Commission went on to note that once an individual or NGO is subject to a criminal procedure the law stops them from approaching the transit zones at Hungary’s borders, which "restricts the exercise of free movement rights of EU citizens and their family members." This again was violating three more EU directives "as well as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights."

Border fence between Hungary and Serbia  Photo Picture Alliance  dpa  MTI  B Mohai

Finally, on the subject of the “unlawful limitation of the right to asylum," the Commission said that the Hungarian legislation had overstepped the mark and was curtailing the right to asylum "in a way which is incompatible with the Asylum Qualifications Directive and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights." The Commission noted that current Hungarian laws include prison sentences of up to one year and expulsion from the country when the laws are infringed.

Other infringements

Hungary was not the only country to be sent a “reasoned opinion” regarding migration infringements by the Commission in January. Spain also received one for failing to fully implement the EU rules on passenger name record (PNR) data. Hungary, Poland and Slovenia all received one for failing to notify the measures they have taken to implement the EU’s current standards on “the qualification of third-country nationals for international protection.” And Estonia came in for a reasoned opinion when it was asked to “remove additional conditions for crossing the external borders.”

Hungary now has two months to respond to the Commission’s second step. Otherwise the Commission "may refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union."

 

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