Hungary illegally obstructed asylum process by requiring applicants to start claim abroad, top EU court rules

Hungary insists it is doing right by its citizens, but the European Commission isn’t impressed

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: Thomas Brooke
FILE - Hungarian police facing illegal migrants on the country's southern border with Serbia. (MTI/Sándor Ujvári))

Hungary broke EU law by enacting legislation that required asylum seekers to travel to Hungarian embassies in Belgrade or Kyiv to acquire travel permits before being allowed into the country and have their asylum applications assessed, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday.

Infringement proceedings were brought against the Hungarian government by the European Commission over accusations that the Hungarian asylum process was not in line with the bloc’s common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection.

Under the scheme enforced by Budapest, asylum seekers who wished to make a claim in Hungary were not permitted to enter the country at first instance upon arriving at its borders. Prospective applicants needed to first undergo a visit to the Hungarian embassy in a third country, namely Ukraine or Serbia, where they would submit a declaration of intent. This would be reviewed by Hungarian authorities and, if approved, the asylum seeker would be permitted to travel to Hungary to formally apply for asylum.

The law was adopted in 2020, following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“By making the possibility of making an application for international protection subject to the prior submission of a declaration of intent to an embassy located in a third country, Hungary has failed to fulfill its obligations under EU law,” the court wrote in a press release published on Thursday.

It added that the process implemented by the Hungarian government is contrary to the EU principle of “ensuring effective, easy, and rapid access to the procedure for granting international protection.”

According to the ECJ, the legislation “deprived third-country nationals or stateless persons concerned of the effective enjoyment of their right to seek asylum from Hungary, as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”

It rejected Hungary’s argument that the restrictions were justified on public health grounds in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Hungarian government has long been at loggerheads with the European Commission over the issue of mass immigration, taking the matter upon itself to secure its border, which is also the EU’s external border and a target for many wishing to enter the bloc and travel to Western Europe.

Viktor Orbán’s administration has made no apology for taking border security seriously.

“We are defending Hungary, we are defending ourselves, but we all know that these migrants do not want to live in Hungary, they are going to Germany, so when we defend ourselves now, as so many times in history, we are defending Europe, especially Germany, and this is the case even if we can’t expect any recognition or gratitude at all,” the Hungarian prime minister said back in 2021.

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