Hungary’s controversial move to criminalise support of asylum seekers infringes EU law, the bloc’s top court has ruled.
The so-called “Stop Soros” legislation, which was passed in June 2018 by the Hungarian parliament, outlawed helping illegal immigrants claim asylum and apply for residence inside the country, with punishments of up to one year in prison for anyone charged.
The text also made it more difficult to access international protection by restricting the right to asylum only to cases where people arrive from a country where their life or freedom are considered at risk.
The legislation, supported by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his ruling party Fidesz, was immediately condemned by Brussels.
Orbán is one of the EU’s leading voices against migration and often exploits the divisive topic to attack his political adversaries.
The European Commission opened an infringement procedure in July 2018 in a bid to force the government to reverse course. As the law stayed in place, the Commission ended up referring the matter to the EU’s Court of Justice (CJEU).
In a ruling published on Tuesday morning, the CJEU said Hungary “failed to fulfil its obligations” under EU law, including several directives that determine whether a third country is safe or not.
If the country of origin is considered safe, member states can legally dismiss the asylum application. But the “Stop Soros” law alters this scope and makes it easier for Hungarian authorities to argue the country is secure and therefore reject the application.
The judges also found Hungary breached EU law by criminalising the actions of those who assist in making and lodging asylum requests for migrants who know their claim will be rejected.
The Hungarian legislation “restricts, first, the right of access to applicants for international protection and the right to communicate with those persons and, second, the effectiveness of the right afforded to asylum seekers to be able to consult, at their own expense, a legal adviser or other counsellor”, the court said.
The CJEU concluded these restrictions don’t justify the introduction of the “Stop Soros” law and its stated objective of cracking down on the misuse of the asylum procedure.
The law “suppresses actions which cannot be regarded as a fraudulent or abusive practice”, the judges noted.
Hungary is now compelled to abide by the CJEU’s findings “without delay”, which in practice would mean amending or withdrawing the controversial legislation. If the government doesn’t comply, the Commission can ask the court to impose financial penalties.