Thursday

27th Apr 2017

EU stands aside as Hungary detains migrants

  • Hungary's interior minister Sandor Pinter greets Commissioner Avramopoulos (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission is sending experts to Hungary to address concerns about the country’s new asylum law that allows blanket detention of asylum seekers, but it will not launch any probes for now, it emerged on Tuesday (28 March).

The controversial legislation, which the UN’s refugee agency said violates Hungary’s obligations under international and EU laws, came into effect on Tuesday, just as EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos visited Budapest.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • The Hungarian government's Facebook post on the upcoming national consultation saying "Let's stop Brussels!" appeared a few hours after Avramopoulos spoke in Budapest (Photo: Facebook - Hungarian government)

The new law allows Hungary to detain every asylum seeker in shipping container camps at the two so-called transit zones on its border with Serbia while the asylum procedure is ongoing.

EU law allows for detention in certain circumstances on a case-by-case basis, but not an automatic, blanket rule as the Hungarian legislation calls for.

Hungary argues that it is not detention because asylum seekers are free to leave towards Serbia.

The commission, while still carrying out a legal assessment of the new law, offered a way out for the Hungarian authorities.

At a press conference with Hungary’s interior and justice ministers, Avrampoulos said that "in a very friendly spirit of positive cooperation we decided to work together with experts to ensure EU rules are complied with.”

He added that the EU is "based on fundamental principles to help those in need of protection, in a humane, dignified and respectful way”.

“This implies giving effective access to the asylum procedure while fighting against abuses, but also ensuring a fair review of decisions,” the Greek EU commissioner said.

Senior commission officials, who have accompanied him to Budapest, will visit the Hungarian border with Serbia. The commission hopes that by working together with Hungarian authorities, it can avoid having to take formal steps.

It is unclear however how the EU executive intends to fine tune the Hungarian law to make it compatible with European legislation.

In the meantime, it continues to carry out the legal assessment of the new law, and according to sources, the college of commissioners will then discuss if any further action needs to be taken.

'Let's stop Brussels!'

Sandor Pinter, Hungary’s interior minister, said he hoped to formulate a common position with the Commission by the time summer holidays begin.

Laszlo Trocsanyi, the country’s justice minister, said Hungary was interested in the dialogue and was confident about a compromise. He added though that, in his assessment, the new legislation was “appropriate”.

"We are looking forward to the comments and we will give answers,” he said at the press conference in Budapest, where journalists were not allowed to ask questions.

Earlier on Tuesday, the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch urged the commission to “call out Hungary’s asylum abuses.”

It said in a statement that “for the sake of asylum seekers in Hungary, those in other EU member states tempted to follow in Hungary’s footsteps, and for the credibility of the EU’s values, Avramopoulos should demand that Hungary change course.”

The commission’s timid response could be linked with a so-called “national consultation” on several issues including asylum that is to be launched in Hungary this week. It ends on 20 May, boasting the message “Let’s stop Brussels!”

The “Let’s stop Brussels” banner advertising the national consultation appeared on the Hungarian government’s Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon, after Avramopoulos’s press event with the ministers.

Eight million Hungarian voters will be asked to send answers to the government’s questions on asylum issues including detention. One of the questions accuses international organisations of “encouraging” migrants to undertake behaviour by migrants.

The EU Commission, or "Brussels", might not want to add fuel to the anti-Brussels campaign of the Budapest government by hitting Hungary with an infringement procedure or other probes.

Strasgbourg fight

Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which is not an EU court, ruled that Hungary unlawfully kept two migrants in a transit zone on its border with Serbia, also putting into doubt the legality of the new law.

Hungary has said it would appeal the decision.

Hungarian officials have since also toyed with the idea of pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights, the legal basis for the Strasbourg court, if the appeal fails.

However, Avramopoulos reminded officials in an interview with Hungarian media Index.hu that the European Union is a signatory to the convention, meaning Hungary cannot “cherry pick” what rules it likes or does not like.

Greece opens first migrant detention centre

Greece has set up its first detention centre for undocumented migrants - composed of box homes surrounded by high wire - meant to house 1,200 people.

Fewer refugees to be relocated as EU revises targets

An initial plan to relocate 160,000, which was later amended to 98,000, now appears to drop even further after the European Commission said the new objective was to dispatch only eligible asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.

EU stands aside as Hungary detains migrants

Commission is withholding action on Hungary's detention of asylum seekers, even as the Hungarian government tries to "stop Brussels" on immigration policy.

Austria wants out of EU migrant relocations

Austria is required to start relocating asylum seekers from Italy and Greece after an exemption to the scheme ended on 11 March. But Austria's chancellor has other ideas and wants the exemption prolonged.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey
  2. ACCARisks and Opportunities of Blockchain and Shared Ledgers Technologies in Financial Services
  3. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  5. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  6. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  7. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  8. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  9. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  10. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  12. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate

Latest News

  1. Russische Fake-News überschwemmen die sozialen Medien Frankreichs
  2. EU agency stuck with London rent bill
  3. EU anti-fraud office ditches Martin Schulz probe
  4. Commission launches bid to make Europe social
  5. MEPs act to strip Le Pen of immunity in fake jobs case
  6. EU starts legal action against Hungary
  7. Brexit is about Europe's future as well
  8. Power struggle in Greenland: Three reasons why the EU should care

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  2. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  4. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  5. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  6. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  7. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  8. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  9. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  10. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  11. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  12. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads