Hungarian law criminalizing asylum seeker help breaches EU law, top court rules

Hungary’s law criminalizing support for asylum seekers and limiting the right to asylum violates EU law, the bloc’s highest court ruled on Tuesday.

The decision stems from a 2018 Hungarian bill the government dubbed the “Stop Soros” law — a reference to liberal American-Hungarian businessman George Soros, a frequent government target. The controversial law prevented people from applying for asylum if they came to Hungary from a country where their life and freedom were not at risk. It also outlawed individuals and organizations from helping illegal migrants claim asylum.

The European Court of Justice found that by passing the measure, Hungary had “failed to fulfill its obligations” under EU law. The verdict is the latest legal achievement for the European Commission in its years-long battle over migration with Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his ruling Fidesz government.

To start, the ECJ ruled Hungary could not dismiss asylum applications on the grounds outlined in its law, arguing the EU already had an “exhaustive list” of reasons to reject such applications.

“The ground for inadmissibility introduced by the Hungarian legislation corresponds to none of those situations,” it said.

The court also ruled that Hungary couldn’t criminalize such assistance for asylum seekers, arguing that it restricted the EU-enshrined rights of individuals to communicate with asylum seekers and for migrants to seek legal counsel.

After Hungary passed the contested 2018 law, the European Commission took legal action against the country and sent a letter of formal notice blaming Budapest for violating the EU’s Asylum Procedures Directive and the Reception Conditions Directive. But Hungary did not change its legislation, and the Commission followed up with a reasoned opinion in January 2019 before referring the country to the ECJ.

More broadly, Hungary and the EU have been clashing for years on issues ranging from judicial independence to media freedoms and refugees’ rights. Orbán has repeatedly accused Brussels of working against the country’s national interest and meddling in its internal politics.

The Hungarian government acknowledged the ECJ ruling but said it wouldn’t back down from its approach to immigration.

“We reserve the right to take action against the activities of foreign-funded NGOs, including those funded by George Soros, seeking to gain political influence and interference or even to promote migration,” Zoltan Kovacs, an Orbán spokesperson, wrote in a blog post. “Hungary’s position on migration remains unchanged: Help should be taken where the problem is, instead of bringing the problem here. In other words, migration to Europe must be stopped and Europe’s future must be based on families.”



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