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

70 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2018 Last revised: 17 Apr 2019

Date Written: August 1, 2018


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.

Keywords: Hungary, asylum, safe third country, nonrefoulement, non-refoulement, refoulement, migration, asylum-seeker, asylum seeker, European Convention on Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, ECtHR, ECHR, 1951 Refugee Convention, Serbia

Suggested Citation

Armstrong, Ashley Binetti, Chutes and Ladders: Nonrefoulement and the Sisyphean Challenge of Seeking Asylum in Hungary (August 1, 2018). Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 50.2 (2019). Available at SSRN:

Ashley Binetti Armstrong (Contact Author)

NYU Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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