Police at the Roszke crossing on the border between Serbia and Hungary | Photo: Reuters
Police at the Roszke crossing on the border between Serbia and Hungary | Photo: Reuters

Hungary is depriving migrants of their right to ask for asylum, an advisor at the European Court of Justice said Thursday. He argued that significant parts of Hungary’s migration and asylum policies violate EU law.

Budapest does not provide effective access to asylum, and legislation on the return of third-country nationals staying illegally in the country is contrary to EU law, according to an assessment on Hungary’s asylum policies by Priit Pikamae. He serves as advocate general at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the highest court of the European Union (EU).

In particular, Hungary’s policies present a breach of the EU directives on procedures, reception, and return, says Pikamae. These directives lay down for all EU member states the common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection, the reception of asylum seekers as well as procedures for returning those who are staying in the country illegally.

Applicants for international protection in Hungary were not provided with the safeguards laid down in those directives, summarizes an ECJ press release on Pikamae's report. "The Commission alleges that Hungary has infringed on the procedural safeguards relating to applications for international protection, has unlawfully detained applicants for that protection in transit zones and has unlawfully removed illegally staying third-country nationals."

In effect, Hungary has returned third-country nationals without giving them the possibility to apply for asylum, concludes the advocate general. Whereas the returns directive states some exceptions under which migrants can be sent back if they are picked up at or near the border, Hungary has applied this to all irregular migrants in the country and not only in exceptional cases.

Illegal transit camps

Pikamae also found that the right to asylum was not guaranteed in the so-called transit camps – camps along the border with Serbia that were recently closed following an ECJ ruling. In mid-May, the court had ruled that detaining asylum seekers in the Roszke transit camp violated EU law.

Prior to the closing of the transit zones, Hungary had required asylum seekers to travel to one of two transit zones, Roszke or Tompa, to ask for international protection. At the same time, the number of persons allowed in the transit zones was reduced to as little as one person per day. This, according to  Pikamae, "prevents those applicants from making their application effectively." Asylum seekers were required to wait between 11 and 18 months before they were admitted to one of the transit zones, where they could file their application, even though EU law states that applicants for international protection shall have "effective access" to this right. 

Restrictive migration policy

Hungary has for years pursued a policy of deterrance of refugees and migrants under Prime Minister Viktor Orban. His treatment of asylum seekers has been regularly criticized by European leaders and rights groups and the ECJ has intervened several times.

•••• ➤Also read: Hungary's slow descent into xenophobia, racism and human rights abuses

Only last week, the ECJ ruled that Hungary’s so-called ‘NGO law’ violates several EU principles. The 'NGO law' restricts the financing of foreign NGOs working in the country and is seen as targeting philanthropist George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation supports Hungarian NGOs that also support migrants. The Hungarian government claims that organizations like Open Society Foundation work against the national interest.

ECJ and the role of advocates general

The European Court of Justice is the EU’s highest court. It is tasked with interpreting EU law and ensuring its equal application across all member states. It is made up of one judge per member country and eleven advocates general who are neither judges nor prosecutors but assist with and deliver their opinions on cases.

The opinions of the advocates general are not binding for the ECJ judges. However, judges tend not to deviate from them, writes dpa. A ruling in the case of Hungary is excepted to be made within the coming months.

With Reuters, dpa

 

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