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Strasbourg Human Rights Court rules Hungary held asylum-seekers in detention unlawfully

The European Court of Human Rights found that two Ivorian asylum-seekers, represented by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, had been held in immigration detention unlawfully for 5 months. Hungary must pay 10 000 EUR to each applicant for damages. The Court’s judgment highlights systemic problems concerning the detention of asylum-seekers in immigration jails in Hungary.

Mr. Lokpo and Mr. Touré were placed in immigration detention in March 2009, where they applied for asylum. Even though Hungarian legislation then in force stipulated that asylum-seekers admitted to the in-merit phase of the procedure, shall be released, upon the initiative of the asylum authority, from immigration detention, the Office of Immigration and Nationality (OIN) failed to do so. The two Ivorian nationals challenged the detention order before the Nyírbátor City Court, which rejected their motion with a merely formal reasoning and without examining the lawfulness of detention in the broader context of human rights obligations.

The European Court of Human Rights held that the applicants’ 5 month-long detention was not a measure proportionate to the aim pursued by Hungarian authorities, namely the expulsion of the Ivorian asylum-seekers, which never took place. The Court held that the applicants’ deprivation of liberty by virtue of the mere silence of an authority (the OIN’s refusal to initiate the release), not incarnated by a reasoned decision and not susceptible to a remedy, “verged on arbitrariness”. The Court also reiterated that “where a national law authorises deprivation of liberty it must be sufficiently accessible, precise and foreseeable in its application, in order to avoid all risk of arbitrariness” and that “the absence of elaborate reasoning for an applicant’s deprivation of liberty renders that measure incompatible with the requirement of lawfulness”. Therefore, the Court concluded that Hungary violated its obligation to avoid arbitrary detention under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The significance of this case goes far beyond the arbitrary detention of two asylum-seekers; it indicates grave and systemic shortcomings related to immigration detention in Hungary. Tamás Fazekas, the attorney of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee emphasised that “the Court’s judgment supports our long-standing criticism regarding the often unjustified use of immigration detention, as well as the ineffective judicial review of such measures.”

The full text is available here.

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Hungarian Helsinki Committee