European Commission takes Hungary to court over migrant law

Criminalising activities in support of asylum claims breaches EU's asylum laws and basic rights charter, Brussels says.

    The EU also launched legal action over detention conditions of unsuccessful asylum applicants [File: Francois Lenoir/Reuters]
    The EU also launched legal action over detention conditions of unsuccessful asylum applicants [File: Francois Lenoir/Reuters]

    The European Commission has referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice over controversial laws that restrict people's right to request asylum and make it a criminal offence to help refugees and migrants.

    The move came after the Europan Union's executive sent formal letters of concern to Budapest over the rules - known as the "Stop Soros" laws, referring to Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros whose philanthropic organisations support refugee work - in July 2018 and January 2019.

    After analysing the Hungarian authorities' reply, the commission said on Thursday that "the majority of the concerns raised have still not been addressed".

    "The Hungarian legislation curtails asylum applicants' right to communicate with and be assisted by relevant national, international and non-governmental organisations by criminalising support to asylum applications," it said in a statement.

    It added that it believed Hungary was in breach of EU asylum laws as well as the bloc's charter of fundamental rights.

    Commenting on the EC's decision, Hungary's nationalist government said it stood by its "Stop Soros" laws and was ready for the lawsuit, according to media reports.

    Led by populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the government argues that the laws aim to crack down on irregular migration.

    Under the legislation, employees and activists can be sent to prison for helping anyone who wishes to apply for asylum.

    It also includes laws stipulating that migrants who reach Hungary via third countries do not qualify for asylum.

    Legal action over detention conditions

    Separately, the EU's executive launched legal action relating to detention conditions for unsuccessful asylum applicants being held at the border with Serbia, where asylum seekers have been denied food.

    The commission raised its concerns in a letter of formal notice on Thursday, giving Budapest one month to respond, in light of the urgency of the situation.

    The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights watchdog, welcomed the legal actions, commending the European Committee for demonstrating "its commitment to protect human rights and civil society".

    "Helping refugees is not a crime. Everyone has the right to a fair process. People held behind bars have to be given food," it said on Twitter.

    "We're happy to see that the [European Committee] agrees and took these important steps today to protect human rights," it added.

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    Hungary: Europe's Bad Boy

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies