HUNGARY: Commission takes Hungary to court over criminalisation of migration and solidarity

(POLITICO) Viktor Orbán’s government is violating key EU rules and rights, Brussels says.


The European Commission on Thursday referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice over its treatment of asylum seekers, declaring that Budapest is not complying with EU law.

The referral is the final stage in an infringement proceeding — the action the Commission takes against an EU member country it believes is violating EU law — launched against Budapest in 2015. The Commission concluded that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government has failed to address its concerns and continues to violate a range of EU rules.

Hungary has clashed repeatedly with the EU in recent years on issues ranging from judicial independence to media freedoms and refugees’ rights. Orbán has accused Brussels of working against the country’s national interest and meddling in its internal politics.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Commission said Hungary kept asylum seekers in transit zones for excessively long periods and failed to provide proper access to asylum procedures.

“The Commission considers that the indefinite detention of asylum seekers in transit zones without respecting the applicable procedural guarantees is in breach of EU rules,” it said.

Hungary’s procedures also meant migrants risk being expelled from the country without the appropriate safeguards, the Commission said.

The Commission also sent a letter of formal notice — the first step of an infringement proceeding — to Budapest over new legislation that threatens Hungarian citizens helping asylum seekers with jail terms and makes it in effect impossible to seek asylum in the country. The Hungarian government calls the legislation “Stop Soros” — a reference to Orbán’s liberal nemesis, Hungarian-American financier George Soros.

“The criminalisation of support for asylum and residence applications and the related restraining measures curtail asylum applicants’ right to communicate with and be assisted by relevant national, international and non-governmental organisations,” the Commission said.

“This law also unduly restricts the exercise of free movement rights of EU citizens without due regard for procedural guarantees or for the rights of the people affected,” the Commission added.

“The new law and the constitutional amendment on asylum curtail the right to asylum in a way which is incompatible with the Asylum Qualifications Directive and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights,” the Commission noted.

Hungary’s embattled civil society welcomed the Commission’s move. But some worry that delays could mean lawyers and activists could still face jail terms.

“Now that the infringement procedure has started, the European Commission needs to continue with the procedure swiftly to ensure the case can be decided by the Court of Justice as soon as possible,” Márta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, told POLITICO. The group, which provides legal aid to asylum seekers, is widely seen as one of the main targets of the new law.

“The threat of criminal prosecution and imprisonment against individuals, lawyers, staff and volunteers of legitimate organizations giving legitimate and essential help to asylum seekers and migrants can only be eliminated by a judgment from the EU’s court,” she added.

A spokesperson for the Hungarian government did not respond to a request for comment.

Featured image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images/POLITICO