Chutes and Ladders: Nonrefoulement and the Sisyphean Challenge of Seeking Asylum in Hungary

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Ashley Binetti Armstrong is the Dash-Muse Teaching Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center’s Human Rights Institute.

Recent developments in Hungary’s asylum law and policy demonstrate an extraordinary subversion of the refugee rights regime and serve as a case study of how a State can pervert its national laws to shirk its international and regional treaty obligations. This Article has two major goals. First, it traces the devolution of Hungarian asylum law from the height of the 2015 refugee crisis to July 2018 through a critical lens. Second, it argues that Hungary is in violation of its nonrefoulement obligations, which prohibits States from returning refugees to countries where they will likely face harm. This Article focuses its nonrefoulement analysis on Hungary’s designation of Serbia as a safe third country. However, in showing that Serbia is not safe for refugees, this Article concludes that Hungary’s entire “Chutes and Ladders” asylum system violates its nonrefoulement obligations, as Hungary expels or pushes back almost all asylum seekers to Serbia.

The international community must study how countries like Hungary evade the global norm of responsibility-sharing, and devise solutions to hold rogue States accountable—particularly if there is any hope for coordinated efforts to manage refugee crises and uphold the rights of asylum seekers enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and human rights treaties.

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