EU court deems Hungary’s asylum policy unlawful

Viktor Orban’s ‘illiberal’ government in tussle with Brussels over migration issues

Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban built border fences in 2015 to block mostly Muslim refugees and migrants, and defended what he called traditional Christian and European values. Photograph: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg

Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban built border fences in 2015 to block mostly Muslim refugees and migrants, and defended what he called traditional Christian and European values. Photograph: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg

 

The European Union’s highest court has ruled that Hungary’s hardline asylum policy breaks EU law, adding to tension between the bloc and prime minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government in Budapest.

The European Court of Justice said Hungary had made it a “virtual impossibility” to seek asylum, by accepting only applications for protection inside “transit zones” on its southern border, by “drastically limiting” access to these camps and by expelling migrants from the country by means of “forced deportation”.

The ECJ also rejected Hungary’s argument that the 2015 migration crisis, during which more than a million people travelled through the Balkans towards western Europe, “justified derogating from certain rules . . . with a view to maintaining public order and preserving internal security”.

Mr Orban built border fences that year to block the mostly Muslim refugees and migrants, and made the issue a key element of Hungary’s “illiberal” democracy and his defence of what he calls traditional Christian and European values.

‘Migrant corridors’

“We will continue to protect the borders of Hungary and Europe and do everything we can to prevent the formation of international migrant corridors,” Hungarian justice minister Judit Varga said in response to Thursday’s ruling.

“Hungary will only be a Hungarian country as long as its borders remain intact. Therefore, not only our 1,000-year-old statehood but also the future of our children obliges us to protect our borders,” she added.

Ms Varga also argued that the ECJ’s decision was “pointless” because the transit zones had already been shut down.

Hungary closed the camps after the ECJ ruled in May that they amounted to places of unlawful detention. At the same time, however, it started obliging people to file a “declaration of intent” to seek asylum at a Hungarian embassy outside the EU, on the basis of which they are granted or denied access to the country.

NGO funding

The ECJ also ruled this year that aspects of Hungarian legislation on NGO funding and education breached EU law. Both policies targeted George Soros, a billionaire funder of liberal causes and founder of the Central European University, which left Budapest for Vienna due to government pressure.

Mr Orban accuses the EU of meddling in the affairs of Hungary and other states and of forcing conservative societies to accept the agenda of a “liberal elite”.

Hungary does not allow gay marriage and effectively banned adoption by same-sex couples this week, when it amended its constitution to define family as “based on marriage and the parent-child relationship. The mother is a woman, the father a man.”

Critics accused the ruling Fidesz party of gross hypocrisy this month when Joszef Szajer – an erstwhile ally of Mr Orban and champion of conservative policies – resigned as one of its MEPs after Brussels police caught him fleeing a gay sex party that broke coronavirus lockdown rules.