LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic violated European Union regulations by refusing to take in their share of refugees, the EU’s highest court ruled Thursday.
The three Eastern European countries “failed in their obligations,” the European Court of Justice found, by refusing to take in people during the 2015 migrant crisis, which saw more than a million people arrive in Europe from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Under the so-called Dublin Regulation, anyone seeking asylum is required to request it in the first EU country they enter. During the crisis, huge numbers of people arrived in the southern countries of Greece and Italy, which felt the other 25 member states of the political and economic union had an obligation to take some of the asylum seekers.
In September 2015, the EU moved to relocate some 160,000 people then in Greece and Italy to other European countries, a move that was fiercely resisted by the central and eastern countries. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia voted against the quota, while Poland broke with them to vote in favor of it. Poland indicated it would take 100 people but then refused to actually do so. Hungary refused to accept anyone and the Czech Republic only took 12 refugees.
The three countries, who were expected to take in 15,000 people each, all cited national security concerns.
“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims,” Hungarian President Viktor Orban wrote in an op-ed in 2015.
In contrast to Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republican, Germany took in nearly a million asylum seekers during the crisis.
On Thursday, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice held that EU countries do not have “the power to depart from the provisions of European Union law based on no more than reliance on the interests linked to the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of internal security.”
The court is currently closed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic but is still issuing judgments in cases it heard before the outbreak began.
The refugee program ended in 2017, as the tide of migrants slowed. In the end, only 34,712 people were relocated from Greece and Italy.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic had argued that since the program was ended, the complaint against them from the European Commission, the EU’s cabinet body, should be dismissed.
However, the Court of Justice found that “an action for failure to fulfill obligations is admissible if the Commission confines itself to asking the Court to declare the existence of the alleged failure.” It is unclear if there will be any further consequences for the trio.
Poland said in a statement in response to Thursday’s ruling, “The refusal to comply with the relocation mechanism was dictated by the need to protect Poland’s internal security and defend it against uncontrolled migration.”
Meanwhile, Hungarian Foreign Minister Judit Varga tweeted, “#EU compulsory relocation system of migrants is dead and today’s #CJEU judgement won’t change that. It must be lonesome in the saddle since the horse died.”
Despite the decrease in arrivals, there are still some 100,000 refugees currently living in Greece. The United Nations’ refugee agency estimates that 36,000 people are living in five reception centers, which were designed to hold 5,400 people. Nearly 10,000 are children and concerns over Covid-19 infections are rising.
The court’s ruling is final and cannot be appealed.