Hungary shuts asylum-seeker camps after EU court ruling

Hungary shuts asylum-seeker camps after EU court ruling

Hungarian minister laments closure of so-called transit zones, where rights groups allege migrants were kept in inhumane conditions

Illustrative: A Hungarian policeman closes a razor wire fence at a migrant transit center near Roszke, at the border crossing with Serbia, October 29, 2019. (Oliver Bunic/AFP)
Illustrative: A Hungarian policeman closes a razor wire fence at a migrant transit center near Roszke, at the border crossing with Serbia, October 29, 2019. (Oliver Bunic/AFP)

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AFP) — Hungary said Thursday it would close “transit zone” camps where hundreds of asylum seekers and migrants were held, following a ruling by EU’s top court against their detention.

The decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) earlier this month is the latest clash between EU authorities and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, which has taken a hard line on immigration.

Hundreds of people were being held in shipping containers behind a barbed wire fence at the two camps along the Serbian border, and rights group have slammed them as inhumane.

But senior government minister Gergely Gulyas said Thursday Hungary was “obliged to comply with the verdict” of the ECJ and so “can do nothing but eliminate the transit zones.”

“The transit zone was a solution that protected Hungary’s borders, and the European Court of Justice’s ruling in this case was unfortunate,” Gulyas told reporters.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, center, and his then Slovakian counterpart Peter Pellegrini, center left, visit the transit zone for migrants in Roszke on the Hungarian-Serbian border, Hungary, February 13, 2020. (Zsolt Szigetvary/MTI via AP)

He said 280 people would be taken from the camps to asylum reception centers but did not specify how long they would stay there and what would happen to them.

“Asylum applications can only be submitted to embassies outside the country,” he added.

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.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), a human rights organization, said about 300 people had been transferred.

“Great news: Overnight, authorities released everyone — about 300 people, many families with small kids — unlawfully detained in the transit zones and transferred them to open or semi-open facilities!” HHC tweeted.

‘First step’

The committee represented Iranian and Afghan families, detained for more than a year at the Roszke transit zone after their asylum applications were refused, in a case brought before the Luxembourg-based ECJ.

In its ruling, the ECJ said people 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.

Last year the European Commission warned that conditions in the camps violated EU human rights legislation.

Hungary has argued that those in the camps could have left the transit zone in the direction of Serbia, but Serbia has refused to readmit them.

A migrant washes his hands on the Serbian side of Hungary’s southern border with Serbia, near Tompa, Hungary, April 6, 2017. (Sandor Ujvari/MTI via AP)

HHC welcomed Hungary’s announcement as a “first step towards the full execution of the judgment,” vowing to help those transferred “to have the opportunity for the authority to finally examine their asylum applications.”

“People did not receive protection overnight. They are simply released from unlawful detention and their procedure is now going on as before, but in open and semi-open facilities,” Andras Lederer of HHC told AFP.

Hungary’s government has repeatedly come under fire from Brussels over its treatment of asylum seekers and migrants in recent years.

Nationalist premier Orban, in power since 2010, is opposed to taking in refugees and erected a fence along Hungary’s border with both Serbia and Croatia.

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