Hungary: European Court declares authorities broke EU law by detaining asylum-seekers in transit zone
The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) today held that Hungary’s detention of asylum seekers in the transit zones near the Serbian border is unlawful. Responding to the decision Dávid Vig, director of Amnesty International Hungary, said:
This is a damning indictment of Hungary’s treatment of asylum-seekers. Today the EU Court has made clear: Hungary held two families seeking asylum in a border transit zone for more than a year, giving them no opportunity to have their situation reviewed by a court, and with no option to lawfully leave that zone of their own free will in any direction. In doing so, Hungary broke EU law.
“The Hungarian government must immediately stop the inhumane practice of detaining people while they await decisions on their asylum applications or regarding their removal from the country. Moreover, Hungary must implement this judgement and accordingly release the women, men and children currently held in the transit zones for unlawful periods of time.
“We also need to see the law on seeking asylum amended by the Hungarian Parliament, to ensure that the abuses that these families suffered are not repeated.”
This decision was preceded by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Grand Chamber judgment in Ilias and Ahmed v Hungary in November 2019, which found that Hungary breached its human rights obligations by returning asylum-seekers to Serbia without considering the risk that they might be exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment upon arrival. The CJEU goes further than the ECtHR and finds that confinement in the Röszke transit zone without a formal decision and due process safeguards amounts to arbitrary detention.
This case concerns an Iranian and an Afghan family who arrived in Hungary via Serbia and applied for asylum in the Röszke transit zone in December 2018 and in February 2019 (respectively), on the Serbian-Hungarian border. Under Hungarian law, their applications were immediately rejected as inadmissible, and they were required to return to Serbia, a country considered ‘safe’ by Hungary.
As Serbia refused to readmit them, the Hungarian authorities failed to examine the substance of their asylum applications but amended the country of destination to the respective country of origin of the asylum-seekers.
The individuals lodged objections against the amending decisions which were rejected. Although no provision is made for such a remedy under Hungarian law, the applicants challenged the decision about their objections before a Hungarian court, requesting the annulment of the decisions rejecting their objections and requesting the asylum authority to conduct a new asylum procedure.
The two families, who are represented by lawyers from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, were held in a transit zone over a year (464 and 526 days respectively) awaiting a decision on their action before the court.
Since 2015, Amnesty International has documented how the Hungarian authorities have gradually restricted access to the country for refugees and asylum seekers, detained them arbitrarily while awaiting the outcome of their asylum application, violently pushed them back across its borders, and put the lives of those who were waiting for deportation at risk by denying them food.
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