Hungary has repeatedly come under fire over its treatment of asylum seekers | Photo: Getty Images/AFP/A.Kisbenedek
Hungary has repeatedly come under fire over its treatment of asylum seekers | Photo: Getty Images/AFP/A.Kisbenedek

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Hungary's restrictive asylum-seeker policies violated EU law. The court said the 2015 migration crisis did not justify the country's decision to override EU rules.

Hungary's asylum policies have failed to comply with European Union law, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday.

In 2018, the European Commission, the executive arm of the bloc, filed a case against Hungary over the "non-compliance" of its asylum policies with EU law.

The ruling follows an earlier ECJ decision in May, where the court ruled that Hungary had illegally held asylum-seekers in prison-like conditions in so-called transit zones. The court found the practice amounted to unlawful detention.

Shortly after the May ruling, the Hungarian government announced it would close its controversial border camps, which held asylum-seekers in legal limbo and in poor conditions.

What the court ruled

  • Hungary's rules made it virtually impossible for people to file asylum applications at the Serbian-Hungarian border.
  • People were only allowed to file for asylum at one of the two transit zones, but Hungarian authorities had "drastically" limited the number of people allowed to enter.
  • EU member states "cannot delay [asylum claims] unjustifiably."
  • Making asylum-seekers remain in the transit zone camps "constitutes detention" and Hungary did not adequately justify holding people in the camps.
  • The 2015 migration crisis did not justify Hungary's decision to override EU rules.
  • Hungary did not respect the right of people to remain in the country while appealing the decision on their asylum case.

What are Hungary's asylum policies?

Under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Hungary has taken on a tough anti-immigration stance. 

In 2015 and 2017, the country passed controversial laws that created transit zones on Hungary's border with Serbia — mandating that all asylum applications must be filed in the camps. 

The laws also introduced the concept of a "crisis situation caused by mass immigration," which the government used to justify circumventing EU asylum law. The government said its strict policies were necessary to maintain public order and preserve internal security. 

During the 2015 migration crisis, Orban ordered the construction of fences topped with razor wire to prevent the entry of asylum-seekers traveling toward Western Europe.

The United Nations and human rights organizations sharply criticized the conditions in Hungary's transit zone camps — including charges that asylum-seekers waiting for results on their cases were not given food by Hungarian authorities.

Collision course with EU

Orban's government has regularly clashed with other EU member states over its treatment of refugees as well as rule of law violations.

Hungary has led the charge among Eastern European countries in refusing to take in their share of refugees under an EU-wide resettlement program to ease the burden on Italy and Greece.

More than 1 million irregular migrants entered the EU in 2015, many fleeing war and extreme poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

rs/rt (AFP, dpa)

First published: December 17, 2020

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