Highest court rejects requests by Hungary and Slovakia to avoid taking refugees
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has rejected a challenge brought by Hungary and Slovakia against the European Union's power to force member states to admit asylum seekers. The two nations opposed a 2015 decision by the EU's top policy body, at the height of the Mediterranean migration crisis, to assist Italy and Greece by making other EU states admit 160,000 people.
Hungary and Slovakia, along with the Czech Republic and Romania, had opposed the 2015 decision taken by the Council of the European Union. The formerly Communist nations in eastern Europe claimed they would struggle to absorb mainly Muslim refugees from Syria. In their case before the ECJ, Hungary and Slovakia argued that there had been procedural flaws and that the decision was neither a suitable response to the migrant crisis nor necessary to deal with it.
The court decision means that the mandatory aspect of the relocation program is legal. Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland had all advocated for a completely voluntary system. The original relocation scheme will expire this month, but the European Commission has made clear that it will be extended. However, Commission officials have also made clear they now want to give the countries that objected to the scheme some time to implement it.
Hungary branded the ruling as “outrageous and irresponsible,” while Slovakia said it would accept the verdict even if it still opposes legally-binding EU refugee quotas. Human rights group Amnesty International welcomed the ruling, saying Hungary and Slovakia had been trying to turn their countries into refugee-free zones.
The case has highlighted a deep divide in the European Union as it has sought a joint solution to dealing with the more than one million people who have come to Europe in the past two years, straining resources, roiling politics and drawing criticism from rights advocates who say that the bloc risks violating international laws on the treatment of refugees.
Parallel to the court case, in June the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Hungary and Poland, for not having taken in any refugees under the scheme so far. An infringement procedure is a measure undertaken by the Commission if it believes an EU member country is breaking EU law. It can lead to legal action before the ECJ. Slovakia has accepted just 16 refugees out of the 902 it was supposed to take. However, it was not part of the infringement procedure as the Commission took action only against countries that have not made pledges to take in refugees in the previous 12 months.
Greece and Italy have been on the front line of the torrent of migrants and refugees flooding into Europe in the last few years, as hundreds of thousands of people from war zones like Syria and Iraq or job-seekers mostly from Africa have arrived on their shores. EU nations agreed in September 2015 to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy over two years, but only around 27,700 people have been moved so far. Hungary and Slovakia were seeking to have the plan annulled. The refugee sharing plan was adopted by a “qualified majority” EU vote — around two thirds of the bloc’s members — and the court held that this was appropriate, saying the EU “was not required to act unanimously” on this decision.
Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella
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