• Finland’s emergency migration law has moved a step closer to adoption following its approval by a parliamentary committee on 18 June.
  • The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has fined Hungary € 200 million for failing to comply with a December 2020 judgement relating to its failure to comply with EU migration law.
  • Hungary has unveiled the programme for its six-month presidency of the Council of the EU and ‘Stemming illegal migration’ will be a priority.
  • Poland has reintroduced an ‘exclusion zone’ covering approximately 60 kilometres of its border with Belarus and is considering closing the two remaining border crossings.

Finland’s emergency migration law has moved a step closer to adoption following its approval by the Riksdag’s (Finnish parliament) Constitutional Committee on 18 June. Committee members voted 15-2 in favour of the draft law which would allow Finland to prevent people who cross the country’s eastern border from claiming asylum. The bill was rejected by opposition Green Party and Left Alliance committee members but it received the support of the Social Democratic Party on the condition that that it would be amended in the subsequent parliamentary vote. The controversial law will require five-sixths of all 100 MPs to approve it if it is to be adopted. The committee vote took place against the backdrop of intense opposition from a number civil society actors. On 10 June, the director of ECRE member organisation Amnesty International European Institutions Office, Eve Geddie, said: “This law gravely undermines access to asylum and the protection from refoulement in Finland. It risks serving as a green light for violence and pushbacks at the border”. “Finland should reject this attack on its core constitutional values and the rule of law, and urgently restore conditions to manage borders humanely and in respect of its international obligations,” she added. In Finland, a group of university professors, writers and artists signed a petition against the draft law, which they described as being “in contravention of Finnish law, the Finnish constitution and Finland’s commitment to international law”. Professor Kari Enqvist from the University of Helsinki said: “Legal experts have quite extensively questioned the legal basis of this draft law, especially in relation to various international treaties on human rights,” adding: “The bill is a dubious one and it might be a good idea to take a time-out and think about it again”. In an interview with the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) published after the committee vote, the United Nations Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) representative to the Nordic and Baltic countries, Annika Sandlund, dismissed the claim that Finland had no other option than to adopt a law which would put it in contravention of its international legal obligations. “People are faced with the claim that this would be the only option, when it is not true. There are many ways to guard the border that take into account human rights,” she said. She also urged the Finnish government to reconsider its current course of action, saying: “We would like Finland to continue to be a champion of human rights even when it is difficult, because that is exactly when human rights are needed”.

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has fined Hungary € 200 million for failing to comply with a 2020 judgement relating to its failure to comply with EU migration law. In December 2020, the CJEU found that Hungary had “failed to comply with the rules of EU law on, inter alia, procedures for granting international protection and returning illegally staying third-country nationals. On 13 June, the CJEU ruled that Hungary had “not taken the measures necessary to comply with the 2020 judgment” and that, in doing so, it was “deliberately evading the application of the EU common policy on international protection as a whole and the rules relating to the removal of illegally staying third-country nationals”. The CJEU described Hungary’s failure to fulfil its obligations as an “unprecedented and exceptionally serious breach of EU law”. In addition to the € 200 million fine, the CJEU also imposed a penalty payment of € 1 million for each day that Hungary failed to comply with its ruling. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán X posted that the ruling was “outrageous and unacceptable” and that it suggested that “illegal migrants are more important to the Brussels bureaucrats than their own European citizens”. Zsolt Szekeres from ECRE member organisation the Hungarian Helsinki Committee took a different view when he expressed hope that the judgment would “put an end to one of the most shameful policies of Hungary’s asylum system, and uphold one of the most basic cornerstones of the rule of law: respect for the Court’s judgements”. “The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has been documenting this harmful practise and actively advocating and litigating against unlawful pushbacks since 2016. We have called on the Government, the Police, and the ombudsman several times from the beginning to put an end to them, as each and every pushback is a violation of Hungary’s legal obligations,” he said, adding: “The Government should have submitted bills to Parliament in December 2020 the latest to bring the domestic legal order in line with EU law. This is yet to happen. Before it does, Hungarian authorities must immediately put an end to these pushbacks”.

The CJEU’s decision to fine Hungary comes less than a month before it is due to take over the presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July. The Hungarian government introduced its six-month presidency at an event on 18 June in Brussels. In addition to vowing to “make Europe great again”, State Secretary for EU Affairs János Bóka presented the presidency programme, which included ‘Stemming illegal migration’ as the fourth of its seven overarching priorities. The programme includes plans to strengthen ‘existing strategic partnerships in North Africa (Tunisia, Egypt)’ and to establish ‘further comprehensive agreements with countries of the wider Sahel region (including Mauritania, Senegal, and Chad)’. It also criticises existing EU migration and asylum rules for providing “further opportunities for abuse in many aspects” and commits the Hungarian Presidency to encouraging EU member states to ‘exchange views on innovative solutions in the field of asylum’. In addition, it establishes as the ‘priority objective’ of the Hungarian Presidency as being ‘to conclude, as far as possible, the legislative negotiations on the revision of the visa suspension mechanism’ which, it argues, will ‘contribute to addressing the migration and security challenges in the Schengen Area in a more effective manner’.

Poland has reintroduced an exclusion zone covering approximately 60 kilometres of its border with Belarus. On 10 June, the Ministry of the Interior and Administration announced that the measure, which is similar to measures that were introduced by the previous government in 2021, would enter into force on 13 June and would initially last for 90 days. “The proposed solutions – by limiting the presence of outsiders in the area of official operations – are aimed at ensuring the safety of both outsiders as well as police officers, border guard officers and soldiers, and limiting the activities of smuggling groups facilitating illegal migration,” the ministry said. In May, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that the exclusion zone would be “more or less 200 metres”. However, in some areas it may stretch two kilometres from the border. According to Tusk, a significantly wider exclusion zone was necessary in certain areas because people smugglers operated “in forested areas not directly at the border, but a kilometre, one and a half, two kilometres away”. Rafał Kowalczyk from the Polish Academy of Science and who lives in the Białowieża area close to the Poland-Belarus border decried the decision to prevent unauthorised people from entering the exclusion zone, telling the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper that it would “make the lives of locals, our lives, more difficult, scare tourists away and make providing help to the migrants more difficult”. On 11 June, a group of NGOs, including ECRE member organisations the Association for Legal Intervention, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Ocalenie Foundation, published a letter that they had sent to Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior and Administration Maciej Duszczyk and in which they criticised the government’s action and the quality of the consultation process that preceded it. They highlighted a number of potential issues relating to the imposition of the exclusion zone, including the decision to restrict access for media and humanitarian actors. “We emphasise that the wording of Art. 12b section 2 of the Act on State Border Protection, due to the scope of administrative freedom specified there, creates a risk that the commanders of Border Guard posts will only admit to the zone those organizations and media that will not criticise or properly monitor the activities of uniformed services in the zone,” they wrote.

In addition to the exclusion zone next to the Poland-Belarus border, the Polish government is also considering closing the two remaining border crossings. On 23 June, Minister of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski said: “Belarus’ actions prompt us to consider the possibility of closing all border crossings. We are currently analysing the consequences of such a decision for the Polish economy and local communities”. Four of the six border crossings have already been closed in recent weeks in response to the Belarusian regime’s “hostile actions”. In an interview with the Polish-Belarusian television channel Belsat, one resident of the Belarusian village of Kobryn, which is located close to the border, said: “It’s closure would be a tragedy, a disaster for many people. If they (Poland) want to punish Lukashenko, they should rather block the freight traffic”. The Kobryn resident’s concern was echoed by the exiled Belarusian opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who X posted: “Keeping Belarusians connected to Europe is crucial”. “Initiatives to limit border traffic due to the regime’s ongoing provocations should target the dictator, not the people. We cannot abandon Belarusians to their fate behind a new iron curtain,” she added.

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