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Hungarian law forcing migrants to seek asylum abroad is illegal, top EU court rules

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The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled Thursday that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s push to outsource asylum applications to the Hungarian embassies in Belgrade and Kyiv is a breach of EU law, according to Politico.

The EU’s top court has once again reprimanded Hungary over its migration policy.

The law, which effectively limited migrant flows to Hungary, requires foreign nationals to submit a pre-asylum application at the country’s mission to Serbia or Ukraine before applying for international protection in Hungary. It means asylum candidates already present in Hungary must travel abroad to file their request. Hungary says certain people — such as Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion — are exempt.

In their ruling on Thursday, EU judges wrote that the law amounts to “a disproportionate interference with the right of those persons to make an application for international protection upon their arrival at a Hungarian border.”

The court also argued that Hungary had violated the bloc’s international protection rules, which do not allow an individual to leave an EU country to file an asylum application abroad. Those EU rules, the ECJ argued, ensure “effective, easy and rapid access to the procedure for granting international protection.”

Orbán, an anti-migration hard-liner, has repeatedly clashed with Brussels over the subject of migration and has made a habit of criticizing EU court rulings as a breach of national sovereignty.  

The asylum policy has been a key plank of the far-right leader’s anti-migration platform, leading to only 44 people applying for international protection in Hungary in 2022. The European Commission, the EU’s executive, denounced the law and referred the issue to the EU’s court in Luxembourg.

The rule was introduced in the wake of the COVID pandemic in 2020, with the government in Budapest arguing that it was designed to reduce the risk of foreign nationals spreading the infection to Hungary.

But the EU’s top court ruled Thursday that the fight against COVID does not justify Hungary’s response, which it described as “disproportionate.”

The ECJ already shot down another component of Hungary’s migration practices in May 2020, ruling that the country had unlawfully detained asylum seekers at its border with Serbia.

The Hungarian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.