Friday

22nd Jan 2021

Hungary 'ignoring EU court ruling on asylum'

  • Hungary also erected a fence on its southern border in 2015 to stop asylum seekers from entering the country (Photo: Freedom House)

Hungary is ignoring an EU court ruling on asylum, issued last month, according to a rights NGO - and has since pushed over 2,300 people back over its border into Serbia.

"Since the judgement came out almost 2,500 push backs took place," said András Lederer of the Budapest-based Hungarian Helsinki Committee on Friday (8 January).

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The EU court judgement on 17 December said Hungary had breached EU asylum laws by, among other things, legalising pushbacks from zones along its border with Serbia.

It was told to stop in a case first brought to the Luxembourg-based court by the European Commission.

But figures released by the Hungarian police, aggregated since that date, shows people are still being forced to return into Serbia.

A Hungarian government spokesperson from its EU embassy in Brussels did not respond, when asked to comment.

The issue also implicates the EU's border and coast guard, Frontex.

In a letter sent to Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri, the NGO demands the EU agency withdraw its border forces from Hungary.

"By continuing to participate in border surveillance and border protection activities, Frontex risks being complicit in participating and assisting measures that are now qualified as fundamental rights violations by the Court of Justice of the European Union," notes the letter.

Leggeri had previously announced the Warsaw-based agency would withdraw from Hungary should serious violations be committed by the Hungarian state.

A spokesperson from the Warsaw-based agency has yet to respond, when asked if this latest violation of an EU court judgment would trigger such a departure.

But mounting denials of similar violations involving Frontex elsewhere in the European Union has drawn widespread criticism, including from members of the European Parliament.

And now previously unpublished documents from Frontex by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee shed further light into the agency's mishandling of abuses.

Although redacted, the documents reveal serious concerns by Frontex's own fundamental rights officer over the Hungarian pushbacks following a field in visit in March 2017.

That visit took place shortly after the Hungarian parliament had adopted a bill that extended pushbacks, from an initial 8km zone along the border, to the rest of the country.

The Frontex officer suggested the agency review its support for the Hungarian state at risk of violating the EU charter of fundamental rights. Nothing happened.

The European Commission then stepped up its court case against Hungary over the law, leading to the December's court ruling.

Similar demands for Frontex to withdraw had already by made but to no avail in 2016 by its own consultative forum on fundamental rights.

The implications for asylum-seekers has been fraught, amid cases of families being shipped back to Afghanistan without any consideration of their cases.

In one incident, a pregnant woman was hospitalised after being escorted by the police, along with her family, to the Budapest airport for Afghanistan.

Because the flight was then missed, the police returned the family to the Serb border and forced them through a gate. They did same at night with the hospitalised pregnant woman.

Another shows how it took three years for Frontex's fundamental rights officer to reach a conclusion that Hungary had violated the rights of another person deported to Afghanistan.

And yet another shows Frontex's fundamental rights officer drawing conclusions that fails to condone violations in cases deemed unlawful by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice.

Asked about Frontex's involvement in Hungary and Hungary's disregard of the court ruling, a spokesperson from the European Commission has yet to comment.

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EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

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Disgraced former Hungarian MEP József Szájer tried to derail a European Parliament resolution against Hungary over rule of law in 2018, but an EU court official has said his case was likely "unfounded".

EU to scrutinise Hungary 'ignoring asylum ruling'

The European Court of Justice told Hungary in December to stop forcing asylum seekers back into Serbia. The European Commission is now demanding Budapest follow the judgement - but Hungary has since reintroduced a special legal order, under Covid-19.

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MEPs are drumming up support for an inquiry into the EU's controversial border and coast guard agency, Frontex. So far, the Greens, the left-wing GUE, and Renew Europe are on board - amid expectations the centre-left S&D will also join.

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