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EU’s top court says Hungary broke the law by forcing migrants to go abroad to start asylum process

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s top court ruled Thursday that Hungary flouted the bloc’s laws and infringed on migrants’ rights by forcing asylum seekers inside the country or at its borders to start the process at its embassies in Serbia and Ukraine.

Hungary’s anti-immigrant government has taken a hardline on people entering the country since well over one million people entered Europe in 2015, most of them fleeing conflict in Syria. It erected border fences and forcefully tried to stop many from entering.

After the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020, the government pushed through a law forcing people seeking international protection to travel to Belgrade or Kyiv to apply for a travel permit at its embassies there to enter Hungary. Only once back could they file their applications.

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, took Hungary to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the law, insisting that the country had failed to fulfil its obligations under the 27-nation’s blocs rules. The rules oblige all member countries to have common procedures for granting asylum.

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.

The ECJ ruled that by “making an application for international protection subject to the prior submission of a declaration of intent at a Hungarian embassy situated in a third country,” the government in Budapest “has failed to fulfil its obligations,” according to a court statement.

The court said that Hungary was in essence depriving people seeking protection of their right to “effective, easy and rapid access” to the procedures for doing so. It said that the new law could not be justified on public health grounds meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

It said that the obligation to travel to a third country could have put people at risk of catching and spreading the disease and that the conditions Hungary was imposing on them “constitutes a manifestly disproportionate interference” with their rights.

It is now up to the commission to decide whether to try to persuade Hungary to amend or withdraw its legislation, or to ask the court to impose fines.

Lorne Cook, The Associated Press

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