The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on Thursday ruled that keeping asylum seekers in the transit zone on the Hungarian-Serbian border constitutes “detention”.
“The placing of asylum seekers or third-country nationals who are the subject of a return decision in the Röszke transit zone at the Serbian Hungarian border must be classified as ‘detention’,” the CJEU said.
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The court acknowledged that under EU directives, member states may detain applicants for international protection, but said “that detention may not under any circumstances exceed four weeks from the date on which the application was lodged”.
The ruling was issued in the case involving two Afghan and two Iranian nationals, who had been assigned the Röszke transit zone as temporary accommodation in 2018 and 2019 and had been staying there since.
Hungarian authorities had previously rejected the complainants’ asylum requests, saying they had entered the country from Serbia, a safe transit country. After Serbia refused to readmit them into its territory, the Hungarian authorities expelled the asylum seekers back to their homelands. Until then, the Röszke transit zone was assigned as temporary accommodation. The asylum seekers then brought a lawsuit to the Szeged court of labour and administration, saying their housing there constituted unlawful detention and asking for their asylum requests to be re-examined.
The CJEU ruling said, “the conditions prevailing in the Röszke transit zone amount to a deprivation of liberty, inter alia because the persons concerned cannot lawfully leave that zone of their own free will in any direction whatsoever.”
The transit zone is only open towards Serbia, and the complainants would violate Serbian law by exiting that way, it said.
The CJEU said in its ruling that EU directives on asylum “preclude an applicant for international protection or a third-country national who is the subject of a return decision from being detained without the prior adoption of a reasoned decision ordering that detention and without the need for and proportionality of such a measure having been examined”.