The Hungarian law forcing migrants to seek asylum abroad is illegal, the EU’s top court ruled. Budapest violated EU asylum laws by forcing people to first go to Hungarian embassies in Serbia and Ukraine before initiating a claim for international protection, the European Court of Justice said.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled this week that Hungary’s law to channel asylum applications to the Hungarian embassies in Belgrade and Kyiv is a breach of EU law.
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Budapest introduced new rules forcing asylum-seekers to first travel to the Hungarian embassies in Serbia or Ukraine to apply for a travel permit. As a result, asylum candidates who arrived in Hungary were forced to travel abroad to file their request. Hungarian authorities could then decide whether to allow the migrants to enter Hungary to formally lodge an asylum claim.
The government in Budapest argued that the legislation was designed to reduce the risk of foreign nationals spreading the infection to Hungary.
In violation of protection rules
The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, took Hungary to court over the asylum law, arguing the extra step breached the bloc's laws and migrants' rights. This was yet another front in the multi-year clash between Brussels and Budapest over rule of law issues.
The Luxembourg-based top court said in its ruling that Hungary violated the bloc’s international protection rules, which do not allow an individual to leave an EU country to file an asylum application abroad. Those EU rules, the ECJ argued, ensure “effective, easy and rapid access to the procedure for granting international protection.”
The court added that by "making an application for international protection subject to the prior submission of a declaration of intent at a Hungarian embassy situated in a third country," the government in Budapest "has failed to fulfill its obligations."
Under EU law, all 27 member states are obliged to have common procedures for granting asylum. The procedure implemented by Hungary constitutes a manifestly disproportionate interference with the right of persons seeking international protection to make an application for international protection upon their arrival at a Hungarian border.
“EU law provides for people’s right to seek asylum. It is as ridiculous as it is unworkable that the Hungarian authorities have asked people seeking safety to request permission from abroad before entering the country,” Dávid Vig, Director of Amnesty International Hungary said.
The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has repeatedly called EU court rulings a breach of national sovereignty. This week’s decision was met with the same criticism.
“We regret that the Court has made such a decision, but we also regret that the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union have forced us to create this legislation in the first place,” said Gergely Gulyás, Hungary’s minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, in response to the ECJ ruling.
The ECJ already shot down another component of Hungary’s migration practices in May 2020, ruling that the country had unlawfully detained asylum seekers at its border with Serbia.
Hungary says certain people — such as Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion — are exempt from the law in question.
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