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Hungary to close transit zone camps for asylum-seekers

May 21, 2020

After the EU's top court ruled that Hungary had been illegally detaining asylum-seekers, the government announced it was scrapping transit zones. Hundreds of asylum-seekers will now be moved to reception centers.

Hungary transit camp
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Gorondi

Hungary is shutting down the so-called transit zones on its southern border, the government announced on Thursday, after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled the practice was illegal

Around 280 asylum-seekers who are being held in the border camps while their applications are being processed will now be moved to reception centers across the country, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said.

"The Hungarian government disagrees with the ruling, we consider it a risk with regard to European security, but as an EU member state, we will adhere to all court rulings," Gergely Gulyas told reporters at an online press briefing.

He added that in the future, asylum requests can only be submitted at Hungarian embassies and consulates.

Camps amount to unlawful detention

The move came just a week after the ECJ ruled that Hungary's practice of holding asylum-seekers at a camp near the border with Serbia amounted to unlawful detention.

The case was brought by four migrants from Iran and Afghanistan who traveled to Hungary via Serbia in 2018 and 2019. 

Read more: 'Hungary is no longer a democracy,' says Hungarian legal scholar 

They applied for asylum at the Röszke transit zone, but their applications were denied since they traveled through Serbia. They were left in limbo in the camps after Serbia refused to take them back and Hungarian authorities also refused to reconsider their cases.

The ECJ ruled that a local court should release the four migrants immediately.

Gulyas said that the four people involved in the case would be removed from the transit zone and be held elsewhere, while the other people in the camp would be taken to facilities for asylum-seekers.

Prison-like conditions

Orban's increasingly strict anti-immigration policies and Hungary's treatment of asylum-seekers have been regularly criticized by European leaders and rights groups.

During the 2015 migration crisis, Orban ordered the construction of fences topped with razor wire to prevent the entry of asylum-seekers traveling towards western Europe. 

The transit zone camps in particular have been criticized for their prison-like conditions. Hungarian authorities also frequently opt not to give food to adults in the transit zones who are waiting to hear back about their appeals after their initial asylum applications were rejected. 

rs/ng (AP, Reuters)

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