Frontex, the EU's border control agency, has suspended operations in Hungary after the government in Budapest failed to comply with a ruling by the European Court of Justice.
Reacting to the news on Thursday morning, Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, welcomed the suspension, saying she had asked for it.
"We recently had a ruling in the European Court of Justice saying that what Hungary is doing is not in line with the European law. And that's why, of course, I think it's the right decision for Frontex to suspend their support at the Hungarian border right now," she told Euronews.
In December last year, the EU's top court found that the Hungarian government had not fulfilled its EU obligations to provide international protection to asylum-seekers. The court also concluded that border officers had illegally pushed migrants found in Hungary without authorisation into neighboring Serbia, violating EU rules requiring member nations to accept and evaluate asylum applications.
"It's of the utmost importance that all member states actually give the right to apply for asylum for people that need to do that. If they then do not have the right to asylum, they should be returned. But everybody has the right to apply for asylum," Commissioner Johansson, whose portfolio includes migration policy, said.
"I welcome this decision of the European Court of Justice and I expect Hungary to comply by this ruling."
Frontex's decision to pull its resources from Hungary represents the first time the border agency has stopped its activities in an EU member country.
How long the agency withdraws its on-the-ground support from Hungary depends on the country's implementation of the European Court of Justice's ruling, Frontex spokesperson Chris Borowski told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Hungary's immigration policy has been the subject of intense criticism inside and outside the country since the 2015 migration crisis. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has made the issue a centrepiece of his agenda and has repeatedly defied EU policies aimed at distributing the burden of incoming migrants and refugees across member states.
In December, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga dismissed the EU court’s ruling as “devoid of purpose,” writing on her Facebook page that “strict border control is maintained.”
A Budapest-based nongovernmental organisation, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, had previously urged Frontex to pull its border forces from the country, arguing a continued presence made it complicit in Hungary's unlawful immigration policies.
The NGO said it documented cases of Hungarian border patrols pushing asylum-seekers back into Serbia and found 50,000 instances since Hungary began the practice in July 2016, including more than 4,400 since the European court’s ruling in December.
The suspension of operations in Hungary comes as Frontex faces an investigation by the EU's anti-fraud watchdog (OLAF) over allegations of harassment, misconduct and unlawful operations aimed at stopping migrants from reaching EU shores.
Migrant pushbacks are illegal under international law. The principle of non-refoulement is codified in Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. “No contracting state shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” the text reads. Additionally, Article 5 of the Frontex Code of Conduct asserts full compliance with the principle.