EU court slaps $216m fine on Hungary for not following asylum laws

Current Hungarian law only allows applicants to submit request for asylum outside of the country, defying EU rules.

Migrants camp in tents next to the border fence at the Serbian Kelebija border village near Subotica on February 6, 2020, as the Tompa road border-crossing on the Hungarian side has been temporarily closed by the Hungarian police. Hungarian police temporarily closed a Serbian border crossing on February 6 after a large migrant group showed up there and demanded to be let in. The attempt came a week after 60-70 people tried to get into Hungary at another Serbian border crossing under cover of night, prompting security staff to fire warning shots in the air. Hungarian police report a sharp rise in attempts to cross the country's southern borders since December. / AFP / ISTVAN HUSZTI
EU rules oblige all member countries, including Hungary, to have common procedures for granting asylum [File: Istvan Huszti/AFP]

The European Union’s top court has slapped Hungary with a 200-million-euro ($216m) fine and imposed a daily one-million-euro ($1.08m) penalty for failing to follow the bloc’s asylum laws and for illegally deporting migrants.

Hungary’s anti-immigrant government has taken a hard line on people entering the country since well over one million refugees and asylum seekers entered Europe in 2015, most of them fleeing conflict in Syria. It erected border fences and forcefully tried to stop many from entering.

In its verdict issued on Thursday, the European Court of Justice said Hungary had failed to take measures “to comply with the 2020 judgment as regards the right of applicants for international protection to remain in Hungary pending a final decision on their appeal against the rejection of their application and the removal of illegally staying third-country nationals”.

“That failure, which consists in deliberately avoiding the application of a common EU policy as a whole, constitutes an unprecedented and extremely serious infringement of EU law,” Thursday’s ECJ verdict added.

A Hungarian government spokesman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the ECJ ruling.

The government has previously argued that the 2020 ruling was moot as it had already closed so-called “transit zones” while also hardening rules to bar future asylum applicants.

Under current Hungarian legislation, people can only submit requests for asylum outside of the country’s borders, at its embassies in neighbouring Serbia or Ukraine. Those who try to cross the border are routinely pushed back.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has often clashed with Brussels on issues ranging from the independence of the judiciary to sending arms to Ukraine, promised in 2021 to “maintain the existing regime (regarding asylum seekers) even if the European court ordered us to change it”.

The European Commission filed a second application before the court in early 2022, saying Hungary has not taken all the necessary measures to comply with the panel’s 2020 judgement.

The EU rules oblige all member countries to have common procedures for granting asylum.

Under EU rules, people have the right to apply for asylum or other forms of international protection if they fear for their safety in their home countries or face the prospect of persecution based on their race, religion, ethnic background, gender or other discrimination.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies