BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s top court ruled on Thursday that four asylum seekers stuck in a transit zone on the Hungarian-Serbian border had effectively been detained and that a local court should release them immediately.
The Court of Justice of the European Union was reviewing the case of two Afghan and two Iranian nationals who arrived in Hungary from Serbia in late 2018 and early 2019 and applied for asylum from the Hungarian Röszke transit zone on the Serbian-Hungarian border.
Their asylum applications were rejected by Hungary, which ordered them to return to Serbia, but Serbia would not admit them. The asylum seekers appealed Hungary’s bid to send them back to their countries of origin.
“The conditions prevailing in the Röszke transit zone amount to a deprivation of liberty because the persons concerned cannot lawfully leave that zone of their own free will in any direction whatsoever,” the court said.
“The placing of asylum seekers or third-country nationals who are the subject of a return decision in the Röszke transit zone at the Serbian-Hungarian border must be classified as ‘detention’,” it said.
“If, following judicial review of the lawfulness of such detention, it is established that the persons concerned have been detained for no valid reason, the court hearing the case must release them with immediate effect,” it said.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of the most vociferous opponents of immigration into Europe, won a third term in power in 2018.
During the peak of the migration crisis in 2015 he had effectively sealed Hungary’s southern border with a fence. Hungary was a transit route for hundreds of thousands of migrants heading through the Balkans to western Europe.
Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Toby Chopra