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15 May 2020 – Hungary

Rözke Transit Zone in Hungary, (MP Ákos Hadházy, 22 August 2019,
Rözke Transit Zone in Hungary, (MP Ákos Hadházy, 22 August 2019,

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on 14 May that “the placing of asylum seekers or third-country nationals who are the subject of a return decision in the Rözke transit zone at the Serbian-Hungarian border must be classified as ‘detention’.” The Court came to that conclusion as “the conditions prevailing in the Rözke transit zone amount to a deprivation of liberty, inter alia because the persons concerned cannot lawfully leave that zone of their own free will in any direction whatsoever. In particular, they may not leave that zone for Serbia since such an attempt (i) would be considered unlawful by the Serbian authorities and would therefore expose them to penalties and (ii) might result in their losing any chance of obtaining refugee status in Hungary.”

The ruling came as the rate of Covid-19 infections in the country continues to rise. As of 15 May, Hungary had recorded 3,417 Covid-19 cases and 442 deaths. The response by the country’s authorities to the Covid-19 crisis has been focused on blaming immigrants for the spread of the disease (see 27 March update) rather than providing support to vulnerable populations. On 6 April, the Hungarian government passed a decree which extends the validity of residence permits for 45 days after the end of the state of emergency. The decree also modified the provisions of the law on the right to asylum in that, until the end of the state of emergency, access to the institutions maintained by the National Directorate of Immigration may be restricted by the Director General of the Directorate General of Immigration.

The CJEU judgment follows the Advocate General’s Opinion of 23 April 2020, which stated that the “evidence shows a situation of isolation and a high degree of restriction of the freedom of movement of asylum seekers to such an extent that it constitutes detention in the sector of the Rözke transit zone. Accordingly, the Advocate General concludes that the asylum seekers in question are in ‘detention’ in the sector of the Rözke transit zone.”

Previously, in 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) had suspended its visit to Hungary as they were denied access to the Rözke and Tompa transit zones at the border with Serbia. The experts said that: “unimpeded access to all places of deprivation of liberty including these transit zones must be guaranteed to independent international, regional and national organisations. This is vital for the protection of the human rights in a country governed by rule of law.” The members of the WGAD said that “there can be no doubt that holding migrants in these ‘transit centres’ constitutes deprivation of liberty in accordance with international law.”