Strasbourg judgement confirms again: Collective push-backs break the law
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee reached a milestone in our litigation struggle against Hungary’s indiscriminate and violent push-back policy applied at the Serbian-Hungarian border. In September 2022, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that it violates the prohibition of collective expulsions and the right to remedy. This is our second victory in Strasbourg concerning this unlawful practice, and it gives us hope for several similar pending cases – and reaching systemic change in this unfair policy.
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Our client, an Iranian citizen, had been waiting in Serbia in vain to enter the Hungarian transit zone to apply for asylum. That’s why he and a fellow Iranian crossed the border irregularly on 2 September 2016. As he is a converted Christian, his life was in danger in Iran, so he needed protection.
When the police caught him, he claimed asylum. However, instead of recording his personal information and delivering him to the asylum authorities, the police handcuffed him. They set the dog at him and brutally beat him. Then they forced him and his companion to walk through the border fence’s gate to Serbia, despite their injuries. They were not alone: on that single day, 74 other people were pushed back in the same manner, without any proper procedure.
Although collective push-backs are prohibited by EU law, they happen daily in Hungary, a 2016 legal amendment even allows it. The Iranian refugee asked the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s help in turning to the Strasbourg Court. He saw it unfair that the Hungarian authorities can force people automatically to the Serbian side of the fence, without acknowledging their asylum applications. This is so as collective push-back means: deporting anyone without any individual procedure or the possibility to appeal. This has been again confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights now. The judgment furthermore stated that the lack of legal remedies against these often violent police actions also deprives the victims of the right to an effective judicial remedy.
This is already the second similar judgement of the Strasbourg Court. In the summer of 2021, another push-back victim client of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee won a case against the Hungarian state.
“Both judgements go beyond the individual cases, as masses of asylum seekers are pushed to the other side of the fence arbitrarily ever since. The perseverance of these fellow refugees gives them hope. And we expect that the judgements in similar cases will finally help us terminate this shameful practice. We will continue to work on this.” said Barbara Pohárnok, attorney of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, who represented the complainants in each victorious case.
Although the Court of Justice of the European Union judged that the Hungarian regulation violates EU law back in December 2020, this practice does not only continue, but the number of push-backs constantly grows. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, even encourages the so-called “border hunters” openly to break the law.
No matter what the Prime Minister says, fundamental human rights apply to foreigners too, and no state can act against them without considering the rule of law or humanitarian control. The European Court of Human Rights has confirmed this for the second time now.