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

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 neighboring 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 judgment.

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.

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