The EU’s top court on Thursday ruled against Hungary over its “transit zone” camps for migrants, dealing a fresh blow to the right-wing Budapest government and its anti-immigration policies.
The European Court of Justice ruled that migrants could not be detained in the camps without their cases being examined individually, and that they could not be held for more than four weeks.
The ruling, in a case brought by Iranian and Afghan families detained for more than a year after their asylum applications were refused, is the latest confrontation between EU authorities and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.
The Luxembourg-based court ruled that holding people at the Roszke transit zone — a container camp built into a fence along the Serbian border — amounted in legal terms to detention.
In its judgement, the court said that migrants could not be detained without “a reasoned decision ordering that detention and without the need for and proportionality of such a measure having been examined.”
It also said that the detention of asylum seekers “may not under any circumstances exceed four weeks,” counting from the date they lodged their application for asylum.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), a human rights organization that represented the families, welcomed the ruling, saying it meant that the transit zones amounted to “unlawful detention.”
“All those kept in the transits beyond four weeks must be released. If they are still in the asylum procedure, they should either be placed in an open reception facility or, after an individualized assessment, in formal asylum detention,” Andras Lederer of the HHC said.
Hungary’s two “transit zone” camps, where people are held in shipping containers behind barbed wire, have also been criticized by rights groups as inhumane.
Last year the European Commission said that conditions in the camps breached EU human rights legislation.
Under amendments passed in 2018, Hungary has been automatically rejecting asylum applications from those who have passed through a “safe transit country,” in this case Serbia.
Budapest’s position remains “unchanged,” government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs said.
“Our regulations and legal practices are in line with EU and international law since the migrants could have left the transit zone in the direction of Serbia at any time,” Kovacs wrote in a blog post.
“These people are no longer asylum seekers, as their claims were rejected long ago; therefore, they cannot enter Hungary legally,” he said.
European Commission for Values and Transparency Vice President Vera Jourova on Thursday said that she hoped Hungary would return to the circle of “undoubtedly democratic countries.”
Her comments came after the US-based Freedom House rights watchdog said that Hungary could no longer be called a democracy, as Orban had “dropped any pretense of respecting democratic institutions.”
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