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Hungary fined almost €40,000 over refugee death

February 2, 2023

The top human rights court in Europe has found Hungary guilty of violating the rights of a refugee who died in 2016. Hungary has one of the worst records on refugee protections in Europe.

This photo shows an exterior view of the European Court of Human Rights
The ECHR agreed Hungary had violated the right to life and had failed to carry out a proper investigation into the deathImage: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday sentenced Hungary to an almost €40,000 ($43,700) fine over the death of a 22-year-old Syrian refugee at the hands of Hungarian border guards in 2016.

The case was brought by a Syrian man who now lives in Germany. He accused the border forces of being responsible for the death of his brother.

The ECHR found that Hungary had failed to properly investigate the death and had violated the brother's right to life.

The fines handed down by the court amount to €34,600 in damages and €5,600 in costs and expenses.

What happened on the Hungarian border?

Court documents show that the man who had brought the case and his brother, along with other refugees including an Iraqi family with children, had crossed the Tisza river from Serbia into Hungary on a boat run by smugglers on June 1, 2016.

The man said that the refugees had disembarked amid reeds before Hungarian border guards began throwing stones at them and shouting at them to go back to Serbia.

When they attempted to hand over the children of the Iraqi family to the officers, they began firing tear gas and they released police dogs.

Braving the cold for a chance to cross the EU border

The whole group then tried to swim back across to Serbia as the boat had already left, but the applicant noticed his brother having difficulties — he had been hit by a rock and had been coughing due to the tear gas, the court documents said.

The brother never made it to the other side. His body was found two days later.

'Cruel and inhumane border protection'

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organization, said that in the preceding month alone, the UN refugee commission (UNHCR) had documented over 100 similar cases where violence had been used against people trying to cross the border.

It added that pushbacks — deemed a severe violation of human rights by European courts — were only legalized in Hungary after the incident, making the actions of the border police unlawful even by Hungary's laws.

"It is incomprehensible why this young man, fleeing a civil war in his country, had to die instead of receiving help from the Hungarian police and army who, unfortunately, have put a cruel and inhumane border protection policy before protecting human life," lawyer Gabor Gyozo from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, who was representing the applicant, said in a statement.

Hungary's far-right government has implemented harsh policies to block migrants from entering or moving through the country, often using nationalist and racist rhetoric to justify its actions.

The ECHR, which is based in Strasbourg, is an independent judicial body focused on the protection of human rights among the 46 member states of the Council of Europe.

ab/jcg (dpa, EFE)