Hungary takes fight against NGOs to EU level

Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó [C] with his team in Luxembourg on 15 October 2018. [Council]

At a Luxembourg meeting of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday (15 October), Hungary called on the EU to stop funding for NGOs that undermine the sovereignty of neighbouring countries such as Israel and Egypt or states that contribute to illegal migration.

The move in itself is not surprising, since Hungary is domestically at war with philanthropist George Soros and NGOs helping migrants. A so-called “Stop Soros Bill” introduces prison sentences for those providing funds on a regular basis to such organisations.

Hungary moves to jail NGOs for helping migrants

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).

The move also exposes Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s alliance with Israel’s Benyamin Netanyahu and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who try to muzzle NGOs that criticise their policies.

A recent visit of Netanyahu to Budapest revealed that he too will call on the EU to refrain from supporting NGOs that undermine the sovereignty of neighbouring countries or that contribute to illegal migration.

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Hungary welcomes Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu today (18 July) on a landmark visit that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán hopes will bolster him in his battle with George Soros and deflect charges of stoking anti-Semitism.

A EU source told EURACTIV that Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó raised the issue of the importance of controlling NGOs receiving EU funds. However, he did not provide any examples.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini responded that the EU had very strong checks in place, and stressed support to NGOs is ongoing and will continue on this basis.

No one else intervened, although Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini is at war with NGO migrant rescue ships.

Italy says it will seize two NGO migrant rescue ships

Italy said yesterday (21 June) that it would seize two rescue migrant ships, one of which is stranded in the Mediterranean carrying over 200 migrants, adding that they were “illegally” flying the Dutch flag.

Even the former Italian government, as well as the French authorities have said that NGOs in the Mediterranean act as “taxi service” for people smugglers.

France adds its voice to stop NGO ships from acting as ‘taxis’

How to save lives without becoming “taxi services” for people smugglers? Charity-run rescue boats operating in the Mediterranean face a dilemma and their activity is being increasingly criticised by politicians in Europe.

Conversely, the S&D group in the European Parliament nominated the NGOs saving lives in the Mediterranean for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Sakharov Prize nominees include NGOs in the Mediterranean

The nominees for the 2018 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought have been announced on Thursday (27 September), including Oleg Sentsov, the Ukrainian film director imprisoned in Russia and NGOs saving lives of migrants in the Mediterranean.

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