The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on April 2 that Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic violated EU law by refusing to accept asylum seekers under a 2015 migrant redistribution scheme.
The European Union’s top court found all three countries failed to implement a decision by the bloc to share the burden of relocating 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy at the height of the 2015-16 migrant crisis.
The migrant redistribution scheme ended in September 2017 with fewer than 40,000 migrants being relocated.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on April 2 that the ruling is "important."
"It is referring to the past, but it will give us guidance to the future," she said.
Warsaw, Budapest, and Prague opposed the quota system from the beginning, arguing that accepting the predominantly Syrian and Iraqi refugees would have posed a security threat. The ECJ rejected those arguments.
"Those member states can rely neither on their responsibilities concerning the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of internal security, nor on the alleged malfunctioning of the relocation mechanism to avoid implementing that mechanism," the Luxembourg-based court ruled.
Instead of a blanket refusal to accept any asylum seekers, the court said the three states should have followed a case-by-case investigation for each applicant to prove they posed a security threat.
The court noted that Poland failed to take in 100 migrants it had promised to accept, while the Czech Republic accepted just 12 of 50 migrants, and Hungary didn’t offer to take in any asylum seekers.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis downplayed the April 2 court ruling, which could result in fines being imposed against all three countries.
"We lost, but that's not important," Babis said. "The important thing is we don't have to pay anything," he told state news agency CTK.
Babis said the "fundamental" point is that the Czech Republic "will not take in any migrants and that the quotas have since disappeared, and that is largely thanks to us."
Hungarian Justice Minister Judith Vargas called the court’s ruling "discriminatory.”
Polish government spokesman Piotr Mueller said the verdict "won't have any practical importance.”
Europe's crisis eased after the EU struck a deal with Turkey in 2016 aimed at preventing migrants from crossing from Turkey into Bulgaria and Greece.
However, nearly four years later, the EU is struggling to develop a coordinated mechanism to process and redistribute migrants from countries like Greece and Italy.