Monday

26th Jun 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.

Security and defence to top EU summit

Pressure is mounting for social media platforms to remove any online content deemed to incite terrorism. Draft conclusions, seen by EUobserver, have made the issue a top priority in leaders' talks next week.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Social Services ConferenceDriving Innovation in the Social Sector I 26-28 June
  2. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  3. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  5. The Idealist QuarterlyDoes Europe Really Still Need Feminism? After-Work Chat on 22 June
  6. EUSEW17Create an Energy Day Event Before the End of June. Join the Call for Clean Energy
  7. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  8. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  9. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  10. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  11. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement