In November 2021, the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) confirmed that Hungary’s 2018 “Stop Soros” Act that foresees potential criminal sanctions for those providing assistance to asylum-seekers is against EU law. It also confirmed the breach of EU law regarding the rules restricting access to asylum, introduced by the same act. SRT grantee Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) has worked for three years to combat and overturn the law, which directly targeted their mission to provide free-of-charge legal assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers in Hungary.
Passed on World Refugee Day in 2018, the “Stop Soros” law, named to discredit Hungarian-American philanthropist and human rights defender George Soros, was part of a broader anti-immigration campaign led by the Hungarian government. The law was so vaguely worded that any person who even so much as provided food to an undocumented migrants or participated in a peaceful protest or rally could be punished up to one year in prison. The law undermined democratic values and criminalized any person or organisation supporting vulnerable migrant populations. Numerous democratic leaders have condemned the law for its anti-migrant stance.
The CJEU judgment is the final outcome of the related infringement procedure launched by the European Commission in 2018, for which HHC could not formally participate, but did provide legal analysis and advocacy throughout the legal proceeding. Since the introduction of the law, HHC has provided help to over 1800 asylum-seekers, always under the threat of criminal sanctions.This has included interventions to stop the starvation of asylum seekers, a tactic adopted by the Hungarian government
Specifically, the judgement states that “threatening those who help refugees with prison is contrary to EU law which requires asylum-seekers to be able to contact and receive information and legal advice from NGOs. Due to their confusing wording, the rules of the Penal Code are also inapplicable.” Additionally, it states, “automatically rejecting applicants who have passed through Serbia is also in breach of EU law.”
“From now on, we can again serve our clients without the threat of prison. We were not intimidated by the threat, and we achieved many of our important legal successes in the shadow of criminal prosecution,” said Márta Pardavi, Hungarian Helsinki Committee co-chair about today’s CJEU ruling. “For example, the Strasbourg and Luxembourg courts found that arbitrary detention in the border transit zones, and indiscriminate and often violent push-backs are against Hungary’s EU and human rights law obligations. Article 353/A needs to be repealed and not sabotage the implementation of this CJEU ruling, as it has done several times already, in breach of the rule of law.”
The decision is welcomed by human rights defenders across Hungary and the EU who advocate for the legal protection of asylum-seekers and migrants and legal pathways. The hope is this new ruling will discourage other populist leaders from pursuing similar legislation.
Read the official press release from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) here: https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2021-11/cp210203en.pdf
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