BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s highest court ruled Thursday that Hungary violated the bloc’s laws and infringed the rights of migrants by forcing asylum seekers within the country or at its borders to start the process at their embassies. in Serbia and Ukraine.

Hungary’s anti-immigrant government has taken a hard line on people entering the country since more than a million people entered Europe in 2015, most of them fleeing the conflict in Syria. He put up border fences and tried by force to prevent many from entering.

After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the government pushed through a law that obliges people seeking international protection to travel to Belgrade or Kiev to apply for a travel permit at their embassies there to enter Hungary. Only once back were they able to submit their applications.

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, took Hungary before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the law, insisting that the country had failed to meet its obligations under the rules of the 27-nation blocs. The rules oblige all member countries to have common procedures for granting asylum.

People have the right to apply for asylum or other forms of international protection if they fear for their safety in their home countries or face the prospect of persecution because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or other discrimination.

The ECJ ruled that by “subjecting an application for international protection to the prior presentation of a declaration of intent at a Hungarian embassy located in a third country”, the Budapest government “has breached its obligations”, according to a court. statement.

The court said Hungary was, in essence, depriving people seeking protection of their right to “effective, easy and prompt access” to procedures for doing so. He said the new law could not be justified on public health grounds aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

He said that the obligation to travel to a third country could have put people at risk of contracting and spreading the disease and that the conditions Hungary was imposing on them “constitute a manifestly disproportionate interference” with their rights.

It is now up to the commission to decide whether to try to persuade Hungary to amend or withdraw its legislation, or to ask the court to impose fines.

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