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22nd Feb 2024

EU to scrutinise Hungary 'ignoring asylum ruling'

Hungary will be receiving a formal European Commission notice for ignoring a recent EU court ruling on asylum.

The move follows reports by a Budapest-based NGO, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, that Hungary is continuing to force would-be asylum seekers back into Serbia.

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In an email on Tuesday (12 January), a spokesperson for the European Commission said they will now demand the Orban government in Budapest explains itself.

"The commission will promptly send a letter to Hungary to enquire about the actions taken or planned for it to follow-up on the court's ruling," said the spokesperson, noting that effective access to asylum must be ensured.

Over 2,300 people have been pushed back into Serbia since the European Court of Justice ruling on 17 December, according to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee NGO.

That court verdict, among other things, said the push backs were illegal under EU law.

But Hungary has since countered, arguing that the spread of the coronavirus requires it to step up stricter border protection measures.

"Hungary has reintroduced the special legal order, which among others entails strict border protection measures," a Hungarian government spokesperson, said in an email.

She also noted that the zones along the border with Serbia were closed in order to comply with the December ruling by the Luxembourg-based court.

"The current pandemic highlighted even further the importance of being able to control who enters the EU's territory," she said.

Frontex to review own role in Hungary

But the case also implicates the EU's border and coast guard agency, Frontex.

Frontex has been operating in Hungary for the past few years.

Fabrice Leggeri, its executive directive, has in the past said the Warsaw-based agency would withdraw, should Hungary violate fundamental rights.

Those statements come amid a backdrop of mounting scrutiny of Frontex.

The EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf, recently launched an inquiry into Frontex as numerous MEPs demand Leggeri's resignation.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has asked Leggeri reconsider Frontex's presence in Hungary given that the European Court of Justice judgment is being violated.

"Frontex is currently assessing the impact of the CJEU [ECJ] ruling on our operational activities," said a Frontex spokesperson, when asked if the agency would withdraw.

For its part, the commission said it expects Frontex to act swiftly.

The Brussels-executive has initiated its own inquiry into Frontex, in the wake of media reports implicating the agency in push backs.

"This process is ongoing, with the commission's full involvement," said the commission spokesperson.

The commission currently has three pending infringement procedures on issues dealing with asylum against Hungary.

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The European Court of Justice last month ruled Hungary had breached EU asylum laws. Budapest was told to stop pushing asylum seekers back into Serbia - yet nearly 2,500 people have been forced across the border since that judgement.

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