Hungarian authorities forcibly transferred a Yemeni family of seven and an Afghan three-member family to Serbia in 2019. They all applied for asylum at Budapest Airport but were pushed out via the border fence. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg ruled today that the Hungarian state violated the prohibition of collective expulsions and inhuman or degrading treatment. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee represented the asylum seekers, including a child with Down’s syndrome, in the case.
Translation is available for this contentVáltás magyarra
Illustration: Dodó Kránicz
Hungary has been committing unlawful summary returns to Serbia (push-backs) since 2016. According to the Police, the number of push-backs since then already exceeds 600,000. The Hungarian legislation allowing for the often violent and arbitrary Police measures have already been ruled unlawful by several international courts.
In 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that collective push-backs without any possibility of appeal are against EU law. Furthermore, the ECtHR ruled in several cases that the domestic authorities’ practices violate the prohibition of collective expulsion and torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Despite this, the Hungarian state has not yet repealed the law, and Police officers continue to treat migrants (including asylum seekers) who enter the country irregularly the same way.
Today’s case is particular because our asylum-seeking clients have never been to Serbia before. It would therefore be more accurate to say that they were “pushed out” rather than “pushed back” to Serbia. The Hungarian state has shown a particularly brutish face towards these two families.
The family from Yemen arrived at Budapest Airport in April 2019. Civil war ravaged the country, and the authorities were not functioning. The mother could only leave the chaotic Yemen and get her children to safety by forging their travel documents. (A Hungarian court later acquitted them in a case of forgery for lack of a criminal offence.) The youngest, then 11-year-old child had previously been diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, and this became clear to the Hungarian Police very soon. Another child was in need of medical care that was no longer available in Yemen. After being pushed out and left to their own devices in Serbia, the family was even robbed.
The story of the Afghan family is very similar. They were apprehended at the airport in December 2019. One family member was an NGO activist fighting against forced marriages and for women’s rights. They had to flee. They could only leave their country with false travel documents and were also thrown into Serbia within a day. The Hungarian police tried to get them to cooperate by claiming they were taking them to a refugee camp – they maintained this pretence even at the border fence.
According to the European Court of Human Rights, Hungary violated the prohibition of collective expulsion, as our clients were pushed out of Hungary towards Serbia without any prior procedure, reasoned decision, and legal remedy and could not present their arguments against the expulsion. The fact that the authorities did not even assess whether the children were in danger by being forced to Serbia makes the state’s attitude particularly egregious.
The ECtHR also found that Hungary violated the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment from a procedural law perspective by expelling our clients ignoring their asylum claim and preventing their access to the asylum procedure in Hungary. Although both families applied for asylum in Hungary, they were not transferred to any of the two – then existing – Hungarian transit zones. In any case, the Hungarian authorities would have needed to assess whether the asylum seekers would have access to the protection of the Serbian asylum system. The shortcomings of the system there were already well known. Since 2009, the Serbian authorities have issued more than 652,000 registration certificates to asylum seekers, while only 196 people have been granted asylum by 2021.
“This is another important Strasbourg case in which the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s asylum seeker clients have received fair compensation. This judgment makes it clear: asylum seekers cannot simply be removed from a country without an individualised investigation. It’s just the newest of the countless international judgments that oblige the government to stop collective push-backs immediately.” – commented Gábor Győző, attorney of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, who represented the Yemeni and Afghan families.