Hungary moves to jail NGOs for helping migrants

People protesting in Roszke, Hungary, 15 April 2017. The protests were aimed against the measures taken by the Hungarian government against migration. [Zoltan Gergely Kelemen/EPA]

Individuals or groups who help migrants not entitled to protection to submit requests for asylum or who help illegal migrants gain status to stay in Hungary will be liable to jail under legislation submitted to parliament on Tuesday (29 May).

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government has also proposed amending the constitution to state that an “alien population” cannot be settled in Hungary, rejecting European Union quotas to distribute migrants around the bloc.

Orbán sworn in as PM for third time, eyes 20 more years in power

Fresh from a landslide election win in April, Hungary’s combative premier Viktor Orbán was formally sworn in as prime minister Thursday (10 May), and hinted at designs on power until at least 2030.

In power since 2010, the right-wing nationalist Orbán has tightened state control over the media and campaigned on a platform of fierce hostility to immigration – policies that have put him in conflict with the European Union, which funds development policies to the tune of billions of euros a year.

The new bill also says that foreigners who sought to enter Hungary via a third country in which they were not directly exposed to persecution would not be entitled to asylum.

The draft legislation, which was immediately condemned by the UN refugee agency, is part of Orbán’s campaign against EU migration policies and against George Soros, a Hungarian-born US financier known for funding liberal causes.

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The Hungarian government found the perfect enemy it was looking for in George Soros and is using him to promote its “hate propaganda” ahead of the upcoming national election, Hungarian MEP Péter Niedermüller told EURACTIV.com

The legislation comes only weeks after Orbán was re-elected by a landslide, and shows a hardening of his stance just as crucial talks begin about the EU’s next budget which proposes spending cuts in ex-communist countries of central Europe.

The text of the legislation, known as the “Stop Soros” bill and posted on parliament’s website, said: “Those who provide financial means … or conduct this organisational activity (for illegal immigration) on a regular basis will be punishable with up to one year in prison.”

“We need an action plan to defend Hungary and this is the STOP Soros package of bills,” the interior ministry said in a comment accompanying the legislation.

It said there were international and also Hungarian organisations helping the entry of illegal migrants to Hungary, adding: “Sanctioning these is justified.” It did not name any groups.

The government has said the bill intends to deter illegal immigration Orbán says is eroding European stability, and risks undermining Hungary’s Christian culture.

New Hungary protest as Orbán installs 'Christian democracy'

Thousands of Hungarians gathered Tuesday (8 May) to protest against strongman Viktor Orbán after he was nominated for re-election as prime minister for a third consecutive term during the inauguration of the new parliament.

While more than one million mainly Muslim migrants have entered the EU since 2015, few have sought to settle in Hungary. Official data show that in 2017 a total of 1,291 migrants obtained some form of international protection in Hungary, mostly Afghans, Syrians and Iraqis recognised as refugees.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR urged Hungary to scrap the draft law restricting non-governmental organisations, saying it would deprive refugees and asylum-seekers of vital services and encourage “rising xenophobic attitudes”.

“UNHCR is seriously concerned that these proposals, if passed, would deprive people who are forced to flee their homes of critical aid and services, and further inflame tense public discourse and rising xenophobic attitudes,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement in Geneva.

Fierce campaign

The new “Stop Soros” bill no longer contains a 25% tax that its previous version in February wanted to impose on foreign donations to non-governmental organisations that back migration.

Civil organisations in Hungary brace for government crackdown on NGOs

Non-governmental organisations in the crosshairs of Hungary’s EPP-affiliated government are seeking new funding sources and legal ways to counter a new law that would allow the interior minister to ban NGOs deemed to pose a “national security risk”.

But the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which provides legal aid to asylum-seekers, said the bill was still “unacceptable in a democratic state” and against European democratic values.

“The government threatens those who stand up for human rights with the criminal code,” the committee said in a statement, stressing that its activities were all lawful.

Soros was publicly vilified during Orbán’s campaign for April elections. Orbán’s anti-immigration stance is particularly popular with voters in conservative rural Hungary.

Orbán has accused Soros and the NGOs funding him of plotting to undermine Hungary’s Christian character by flooding it with immigrants, an allegation Soros has repeatedly denied.

Nationalist MEP blames Soros for EU migration crisis

French MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser has blamed billionaire George Soros for having financed the “humanitarian infrastructures” that helped open Europe’s doors to uncontrolled flows of migrants, and for making money from the EU’s destabilisation.

The proposed constitutional amendment submitted on Tuesday would also provide a legal basis for the establishment of new administrative courts and a high court to deal with lawsuits concerning the public sector, flagged by the justice minister earlier this month.

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