Top EU court fines Hungary $216 million for flouting asylum law

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s top court ordered Hungary to pay a fine of 200 million euros ($216 million) on Thursday for persistently breaking the bloc’s asylum rules despite a previous European Court of Justice ruling, plus an additional 1 million euros for every day it fails to comply going forward.

Hungary had not implemented a 2020 ruling from top EU judges in Luxembourg, the ECJ wrote in a press release. “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.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán slammed the ruling as “outrageous and unacceptable.”

“It seems that illegal migrants are more important to the Brussels bureaucrats than their own European citizens,” he wrote on the social media platform X.

Hungary’s anti-immigrant government has taken a hard line on people entering the country since well over 1 million people entered Europe in 2015, most of them fleeing conflict in Syria.

The case concerns changes Hungary made to its asylum system in the wake of that crisis, when some 400,000 people passed through Hungary on their way to Western Europe. Hungary built fences protected by razor wire on its southern borders with Serbia and Croatia and a pair of transit zones for holding asylum seekers on its border with Serbia. Those transit zones have since closed.

The measures were part of Orban’s increasingly strict anti-immigration policies and the extreme minimization of Hungary’s asylum system.

Back in 2020, the ECJ found that Budapest’s policies had restricted access to international protection, unlawfully detained asylum applicants and failed to observe their right to stay in Hungary while their application went through the full due process, the court recalled on Thursday.

The transit zones were closed in 2020, shortly after the first ECJ ruling.

But the European Commission, which is responsible for monitoring the 27 EU member states’ compliance with their shared laws, took the view that Budapest had still not complied and requested the European Court of Justice to fine Hungary, the ECJ said Thursday.

After the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020, the Hungarian government also 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 European Commission took Hungary to the European Court of Justice 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.

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Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.

Ella Joyner, The Associated Press