EU Court Rules Hungary Broke Asylum Law By Detaining Migrants

By RFE/RL's Hungarian Service

The European Union's highest court on December 17 ruled that Hungary broke the law by preventing some immigrants from seeking asylum and moving many to transit camps.

The European Commission -- the 27-member bloc's executive body -- launched legal proceedings against the asylum law issued by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing government in 2015, at the peak of a migrant crisis in which well over 1 million people entered Europe.

As tens of thousands of migrants moved through the Balkans, Orban's anti-migrant government erected razor-wire fences to keep them out and expanded the use of legal exceptions for “crisis situation caused by mass migration” to set up two transit zones where refugees were held.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) largely ruled in favor of the commission, finding that Hungarian authorities failed to observe the procedures and required guarantees.

"Hungary has failed to fulfill its obligations under EU law in the area of procedures for granting international protection," the ECJ said.

The court found Hungary did not allow asylum seekers to leave detention while their cases were under consideration and offered no special protections to children or the vulnerable.

Where asylum claims have been rejected, it said, in some cases, "those nationals are forcibly escorted, by the police, from the other side of a fence erected a few meters from the border with [non-EU member] Serbia, to a strip of land devoid of any infrastructure."

The actions were deemed a breach of an EU directive establishing safeguards for the removal of illegal immigrants.

"Restricting access to the international protection procedure, unlawfully detaining applicants for that protection in transit zones and moving illegally staying third-country nationals to a border area, without observing the guarantees surrounding a return procedure, constitute infringements of EU law," the court said in a press release.

Orban's government has argued that nation states should have control over their own borders and accused the European Union of trying to force it to accept mass immigration.

Orban has often argued that migrants from the Middle East and Africa must be kept out to preserve the Christian character of Hungarian culture.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and dpa