EU court rules Hungary illegally detains migrants at the border with Serbia

The placing of asylum seekers and third-country nationals, who are the subject of a return decision, in the Rоszke transit zone in Hungary, at the Serbian-Hungarian border, must be classified as "detention," the Court of Justice of the European Union said in a judgment on Thursday.

The conditions prevailing in the Roszke transit zone amount to a deprivation of liberty," said the court. "The persons concerned cannot lawfully leave that zone of their own free will in any direction whatsoever."

The case was brought by four migrants from Iran and Afghanistan. Their asylum applications were rejected by Hungarian authorities, who argued that the asylum-seekers entered illegally from Serbia, which they regard as a safe country of transit. As such, they should claim asylum in Serbia. However, Serbia refused to take them back, saying it does not share an agreement with Hungary on the transfer of people who had entered the EU country illegally. That effectively left them in limbo after Hungarian authorities refused to reconsider their application.

ECJ Advocate General Priit Pikamae last month argued that due to Serbia's refusal to take them back, it was up to Hungary to resume "the procedure to examine the substance of their initial asylum request instead of returning them to their country of origin." He also criticized the conditions under which they were held, saying it amounted to "unlawful detention" due to the "high degree of restriction of the freedom of movement."

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