EU rejects migrant challenge
The EU’s principal court has rejected a challenge by Hungary and Slovakia to a migrant relocation agreement devised at the height of the 2015 refugee crisis.
The European Court of Justice overruled the objections to the compulsory fixed-quota scheme. The court dismissed “in their entirety the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary”. The quota system was “necessary to respond effectively and swiftly to an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of displaced [people]”, the court said.
Hungary has not accepted a single asylum seeker under the agreement since it was introduced in 2015 in an attempt to ease the pressure on Greece and Italy.
The case highlights profound divides in the European Union as it seeks a joint solution to the crisis, straining resources and drawing criticism from human-rights groups who say that the EU risked violating international law on the treatment of migrants.
Since 2014, at least 1.7 million migrants have tried to settle in the EU.
Those fleeing war and persecution are entitled to asylum under European and international law.
In September 2015, at the peak of the crisis, leaders of EU members agreed to distribute 160,000 migrants “in clear need of international protection” throughout the bloc over two years.
Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania voted against the quotas.
The issue was decided by a majority vote, which is usually used on issues that do not involve national sovereignty.
Hungary was asked to take 1,294 asylum seekers and Slovakia 802. Poland and Hungary have so far refused to take any refugees.
Slovakia has accepted only about 12 and the Czech Republic has refused to take any migrants for the past year.
“Given the tense politics of internal solidarity, it might make more sense for the commission to avoid insisting on the commitment, having made its point,” said Elizabeth Collett, the European chief of the Migration Policy Institute. “Few EU member states have actually met their relocation quota, and most were just a lot more passive about it.”
Only 28,000 people have been relocated under the scheme and arrivals have fallen overall due to the EU-Turkey agreement and EU action to reduce migration from Libya.
More than a million migrants have applied for asylum in Germany and Berlin’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said the move was “explicitly clear”.
“I have always told our Eastern European partners that it is correct to put questions to the courts,” Gabriel said. “But now we can also expect that all European partners will uphold the ruling and the carry out the decision without further delay.”
Syrian refugees at Keleti railway station in Budapest in 2015. Picture credit: Wikimedia