Our intervention at the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee Working Group on Frontex Scrutiny on push-backs and the Agency’s human rights record in Hungary.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee was invited to the expert panel of the Working Group’s session on 23 April 2021.
You can watch the full hearing on the European Parliament’s website here.
HHC’s analysis on the human rights compliance mechanisms within Frontex, shared with the Working Group, is here.
HHC’s specific report on push-backs from Hungary, submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in February 2021 is here.
Regularly updated table of push-back statistics is available here.
Below is the text of the HHC’s intervention.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for having me today here. I’m András Léderer, the advocacy officer of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Hungary’s oldest human rights watchdog that is also the only organisation that provides free legal assistance to asylum-seekers and refugees. I have been personally working on documenting and litigating push-backs from Hungary ever since they were legalised back in July 2016.
Let me start by saying that I very much welcome that these are public hearings.
This is crucial as there are several key threads woven through the systemic problems with Frontex, one of them is the absolute lack of transparency of its operations. The risk of committing rights violations and breaches of law at any official body, especially at a law enforcement agency is directly proportional to its operational secrecy. The quality and quantity of information Frontex shares on its own initiative is insufficient. When it comes to FoI requests, its record is equally problematic: we all know of the infamous lawsuit against investigative journalists, and in the document I am sharing with you at the end of this hearing and which will be available on the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s twitter account as well, you will see the level of redaction in documents provided.
The Agency’s role in Hungary provides a unique opportunity to assess its compliance with international and EU law. After domestic legal amendments of 2016, push-backs became “lawful” from an 8 km zone of Hungary’s southern borders. Unlawfully staying third-country nationals were removed to the Serbian side of the border fence without any identification, documentation, and without them having the right to seek asylum. In the following months, dozens of reports by the media and international organisations were published on Hungarian push-backs and their extreme violence. What is daily business today sent shock waves across the continent back then. The Agency did not comment. So we sent a letter to Executive Director Mr Leggeri, calling his attention to this massive rights violation happening in the presence of the Agency and asking him to publish the information Frontex has on violence, the so-called serious incident reports. The latter did not happen. Following this, Ms Arnaez, the Fundamental Rights Officer at the time for whom I would like to express my respect here on the record, conducted a monitoring visit. Her report listed 7 specific rights, protected by the Charter that are at risk of systemic violation due to the Hungarian practice and concluded that the Agency should revise its presence. In early 2017, the Consultative Forum also recommended the suspension of the Agency’s activities in Hungary. Mr Leggeri responded in writing that he will not do so.
In March 2017, the 8 km zone from where these push-backs can be carried out was extended to the entire territory of Hungary. This means that if someone is apprehended in Budapest without valid documents they are put in a police car, driven down to the border and thrown out of the country. This is not a mere practice, as is the case in Croatia for example. This is the letter of the law. Ms. Arnaez again visited Hungary and again concluded that the “risk of shared responsibility” in rights violations remains very high. Nothing happened.
Well, that is not really true. Over 60 000 push-backs took place since then according to daily statistical data published by the Hungarian Police. Sixty thousand! Like that of a single mother with a child with mental illness who was thrown to the Serbian night after she asked for asylum at the airport in Budapest. Or like that of an unaccompanied boy who asked for asylum in Western Hungary. Or that of another unaccompanied child who was severely beaten in a barn before being pushed back to Serbia. And I could go on – we represent dozens of victims in various proceedings in Hungary and in Strasbourg, including these people.
The Commission finally decided to launch an infringement procedure against Hungary because of push-backs in the summer of 2017. Even this, the fact that the Commission assessed the situation to be in breach of EU law did not change anything about the Agency’s operation in Hungary. How is this possible?!
The CJEU ruled that the push-backs breach EU law last December. The Hungarian government and the authorities ignore the judgment, and continue with push-backs to this day. In January this year, we had to remind the Agency that their continued presence in Hungary could lead to legal action. That public reminder and the other scandals engulfing the Agency led to it finally suspending operations in Hungary at the end of January. We are yet to hear of any internal investigation on how, despite the clarity of the legal situation, the insurmountable evidence, the internal assessments, Frontex continued to provide assistance to and cooperated closely with the Hungarian authorities who carried out over 71 thousand push-backs in the last five years.
Being aware of the time, I stop here. I hope I will have the opportunity to share our recommendations on how to fix this situation in the Q&A session. Thank you.