Hungary’s government on Thursday announced that it was closing down its so-called migrant transit zones on its borders, freeing some 300 refugees from prison-like conditions while at the same time hardening rules which will effectively bar future asylum applicants.
“The zones, which are the subject of international lawsuits and have been criticized by global human rights groups, were emptied after a European Union court ruled the practice unlawful”, Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, said.
During the peak of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, Orban ordered Hungary’s southern border with Serbia to be sealed, blocking a route for hundreds of thousands of migrants.
Some have been stuck in the transit zones on the border between Hungary and Serbia with shipping containers for lodging and surrounded by heavily-guarded barbed wire perimeters, for a year or more.
Human rights groups said the migrants, who are mainly from the Middle East, were moved to other facilities after the top EU court ruled last week that two Afghans and two Iranians had effectively been detained and should be released.
“The Hungarian government disagrees with the ruling, we consider it a risk to European security, but as an EU member state, we will honor all court rulings,” Gulyas said.
He also said that, in the future, those seeking to apply for asylum in Hungary will have to present their claims at Hungarian diplomatic missions in other countries. “External border protection is an issue that Hungary cannot, does not want to, and will not concede,” he added.
While the Hungarian Helsinki Committee welcomed the closure, it also emphasized that now it would be even harder for refugees to gain asylum in the EU via Hungary.
Consulates can reject asylum requests without allowing applicants any access to their territory, a violation of the Geneva Conventions, Zsolt Zadori, spokesman of Helsinki Committee said.