The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has found Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic guilty of breaking European law. The decision was reached on April 2nd, 2020, with the countries failing to take in their quotas of refugees. In 2015, European Union (EU) leaders sought to address the migrant crisis that had led to a disproportionate distribution of refugees across Europe. They implemented a plan to relocate around 120,000 asylum seekers from southern Europe — primarily Italy and Greece — to other EU countries.
Since the migrant crisis began, the Czech Republic has admitted a total of just 12 asylum seekers. This tiny number, however, looks like a heroic humanitarian effort when compared to Poland and Hungary. Neither central European nation has admitted so much as a single refugee. This is despite Poland and the Czech Republic agreeing to admit 100 and 50 migrants respectively. According to the ECJ, Hungary never agreed to accept any. The refusal of these three countries to admit migrants is made even more shocking given the economic benefits they could have received. Under the EU relocation plan, countries are offered 6,000 euros for every person they take in.
Hungary’s hostile attitude toward migrants has sparked global outrage since the “Petra Laszlo incident”. In the famous video, Hungarian camerawoman, Petra Laszlo, can be seen physically assaulting refugees fleeing for their lives. She even kicks a man carrying a small girl — presumably, his daughter — in his arms. While Laszlo is not a state actor herself, her grotesque actions have become emblematic of Hungary’s hostility toward immigrants. And the Petra Laszlo incident is far from the only example of migrant abuse at the Hungarian border. The Hungarian government, led by far right autocrat Viktor Orban, has been accused of countless abuses. This includes intentionally starving those seeking refuge in the central European nation.
In the past, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have argued that ignoring EU law is crucial in ensuring public safety. Polish government spokesperson Piotr Muller said Poland’s “actions were dictated by the… need for protection.” This argument at best sits on empirically shaky grounds. Studies have repeatedly shown that refugees are far less likely to commit crimes than the general population. The three countries attempted to prove that to preserve law and order they could not take in their quota of refugees. However, the ECJ rejected their case.
The unwillingness of countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to take in their fair share of migrants has been a cause of resentment from other EU members. Countries that have welcomed large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, such as Germany and Sweden, have argued that it is unfair for others to simply refuse to help out. Only around 40,000 migrants have been relocated in the EU. This is a far-cry from the intended 120,000 (set by the refugee relocation plan) and demonstrates the noncompliance of certain EU nations.
Some are hopeful that the ECJ’s ruling will lead the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to reform their restrictive immigration policies. Others are not nearly as optimistic. Past behaviour suggests that the Czech Republic is unlikely to give in without a fight. And with Hungary and Poland ruled by de facto fascist governments, hopes for their future compliance seems little more than wishful thinking.