Hungary to be fined €1m a day until it complies with EU law on migrants

A fence covered in barbed wire at the border between Hungary and Serbia
Hungary's government has erected border fences and introduced hard-line policies against migrants - Jerome Cid/Alamy Stock Photo

The European Court of Justice will fine Hungary €1 million (£845,000) every day until it stops breaking EU law and takes in more migrants.

Hungary was guilty of “unprecedented and extremely serious infringement” of European laws on claiming asylum and deportations of illegal migrants”, the EU’s top court said.

Budapest was hit with a £169 million fine for breaking EU asylum law and warned there would be additional daily fines until it observes the rules.

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s long-serving anti-migrant prime minister, said that the “outrageous and unacceptable” fines were for “defending the borders of the European Union”.

He said: “It seems that illegal migrants are more important to the Brussels bureaucrats than their own European citizens.”

Mr Orban has regularly been at loggerheads with the EU over asylum policy since the migration crisis of 2015.

More than a million Syrians passed through Hungary during the crisis as the government erected border fences and introduced hard-line policies.

Hungary’s fenced southern border with Serbia remains a target for migrants hoping to reach EU territory through the Balkans from Turkey, before travelling to richer countries such as Germany.

In December 2020, the European court said that Hungary broke EU laws on granting asylum and deportation of illegal migrants.

Viktor Orban, Hungary's long-serving anti-migrant prime minister
Viktor Orban, Hungary's long-serving anti-migrant prime minister, said that the fines were 'outrageous and unacceptable' - Markus Schreiber/AP

It illegally detained asylum seekers in “transit zones” between border fences, refused to allow failed asylum seekers to stay in Hungary even if they appealed a rejection of their claim and unlawfully deported some illegal migrants.

It also forced asylum seekers to travel to Kyiv or Belgrade to apply for a permit to enter Hungary rather than offer international protection at the border as the law demands.

The European Commission brought a fresh case against Hungary because it felt that it had not complied with the judgement, except in the case of the transit zones.

Brussels made the rare move of asking for financial penalties to be imposed and EU judges agreed in a judgement delivered on Thursday.

The court said that Hungarian lawbreaking undermined solidarity among EU countries and passed the responsibility for the migrants onto other member states.

EU member states have spent years trying to reform the bloc’s migration rules.

A new policy to speed up asylum procedures calls on counties to accept migrants from “front-line states” or pay €20,000 for each person they refuse.

Hungary has vowed to take no migrants from countries such as Italy, Greece and Spain, which have borne the brunt of illegal migration into the EU.

Budapest will take over the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1.

It will be entrusted with brokering intergovernmental agreements on policy, including the allocation of the bloc’s top jobs after European elections in which anti-migrant hard-Right parties made big gains.

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