Hungary aims to criminalize helping migrants with 'Stop Soros' bill

People or groups that help migrants who are not entitled to protection to submit requests for asylum, or that help illegal migrants obtain status to stay in Hungary, could face jail time under a new bill submitted to the Hungarian parliament.

UNHCR says draft law restricting NGOs would deprive refugees, asylum-seekers of vital services

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the Visegrad Group meeting in Brussels on Dec. 14, 2017. Orban's government has submitted a bill to Hungary's parliament that would place restrictions on aiding migrants and asylum-seekers. (Eric Vidal/Reuters)

People or groups that help migrants who are not entitled to protection to submit asylum requests, or who help illegal migrants obtain status to stay in Hungary, could face jail time under a new bill that was submitted on Tuesday to parliament.
 
In a separate bill, the government proposed amending the constitution to state that an "alien population" could not be settled in Hungary and foreign citizens could live in Hungary only if permitted by the national authorities.

It also said that foreigners who sought to enter Hungary via a third country where they were not directly exposed to persecution would not be entitled to asylum.

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.- UNHCR

The proposed legislation, which was immediately condemned by the UN refugee agency, is part of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban government's campaign against the EU's migration policies and against George Soros, a Hungarian-born U.S. financier known for funding liberal causes.

The text of the legislation, known as the "Stop Soros" bill, has been posted on the Hungarian parliament's website. It reads: "Those who provide financial means ... or conduct this organizational 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 organizations helping the entry of illegal migrants to Hungary, adding: "Sanctioning these is justified." It did not name any groups.

'Rising xenophobic attitudes'

The UN refugee agency UNHCR quickly responded, urging Hungary to scrap the draft law restricting non-governmental organizations, 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 UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement in Geneva.

A migrant walks through the makeshift refugee camp near the Horgos border crossing into Hungary, near Horgos, Serbia, on Feb. 8, 2017. (Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press)

The new "Stop Soros" bill no longer contains a 25-per-cent tax that its previous version in February wanted to impose on foreign donations to non-governmental organizations that back migration.

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

In power since 2010, Orban has increased his control over the media and has campaigned on a platform of fierce hostility to immigration for years — policies that have put him at odds with the European Union, which funds Hungary with billions of euros a year.

Soros was publicly vilified during Orban's campaign for April elections, which Orban won in a landslide, securing a third straight term in office. His anti-immigration stance is particularly popular with voters in rural Hungary.

He has accused Soros and the NGOs funding him of plotting to undermine Hungary's Christian culture by flooding it with immigrants, an allegation which Soros has repeatedly denied.