Hungary set to criminalise aiding migrants with 'Stop Soros' bill

Set of controversial laws targeting NGOs will impose jail terms on anybody seen to be aiding undocumented immigrants.

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    To stop refugees from entering the country, Hungary has built a fence on the Hungary-Serbia border [Laszlo Balogh/Reuters]
    To stop refugees from entering the country, Hungary has built a fence on the Hungary-Serbia border [Laszlo Balogh/Reuters]

    Budapest, Hungary - The Hungarian parliament is set to vote on Wednesday on a set of controversial laws targeting NGOs that would impose jail terms on anybody seen to be aiding undocumented immigrants.

    Passage of the so-called 'Stop Soros' set of laws, which was a key campaign promise by Prime Minister Viktor Orban during his successful re-election bid in April's general elections, is all but assured with his Fidesz party holding a supermajority in parliament.

    The laws have been universally condemned by human rights groups, members of the European Parliament and the United Nations as an attack on the fundamental human rights of both asylum-seekers and those who protect them.

    They also come despite requests from the Council of Europe to wait until after the Venice Commission, their panel of constitutional law and human rights experts, issues their opinion on the bill, which is expected on Friday.

    Wednesday's vote was confirmed by Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto during a news conference on Tuesday in which he also declared "our parliamentary group will vote in favour of the proposal".

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    According to the latest version of the bill released last month, the government would be given the right to either jail or ban NGOs that support migration and are seen as a national security risk.

    Tax rise for NGOs

    On Tuesday, the finance ministry also introduced a proposed 25 percent tax to be paid by NGOs that assist immigrants, a provision that was previously stripped from the bill.

    "We are seriously concerned that if these proposals are passed, their implementation could deprive refugees and asylum-seekers of vital aid and services. We also believe it to be having a detrimental impact on already inflamed public discourse and rising xenophobic attitudes," Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Al Jazeera.

    "UNHCR is calling on the government of Hungary to withdraw the package of laws, as they would restrict the ability of NGOs and individuals to support refugees and asylum-seekers," Yaxley said.

    The legislation is nicknamed after Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros - who funds the Central European University and Open Society Foundations, the latter of which was forced out of Hungary last month amid increasing political pressure and a challenging legal environment. 

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    With the passage of the law, in addition to the 25 percent 'immigration tax' and other anticipated constitutional changes that may hinder the settlement of foreigners and freedom of speech, some believe that that Orban is finally willing to deliver on his long-standing rhetoric.

    "We fear the legislation will be enacted with the purpose of using it against us and other civil society actors. It is no longer a PR exercise. They do want to criminalise NGOs and now it includes prison sentences and we are very worried," said Catrinel Motoc, a senior campaigner at Amnesty International.

    "The situation of human rights in Hungary has been deteriorating for a number of years and has gone from bad to worse," she said.

    Others, meanwhile, said they would need to wait and see as the language in the draft bill is often unclear, potentially unconstitutional and may never make it past the courts.

    "A lot will depend on implementation because a lot of the provisions are so vague. If they implement it as it appears to say in in the law and they start jailing people for providing information on immigration, that is crazy. We will have to see what the courts will say," said Zselyke Csaky, senior researcher on Central and Eastern Europe and a rule of law expert with Washington-based rights organisation Freedom House.

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    Orban, who has been in power since 2010, won the April elections with 49 percent of the vote, which secured Fidesz 134 of 199 seats in parliament.

    A successful vote today for Fidesz would make good on the nationalist leader’s campaign pledge to make the 'Stop Soros' laws a priority for the new term.

    "Can there be compromise in the migrant debate? No - and there is no need for it," Orban said during a conference in Budapest over the weekend.

    "We tolerate the fact that some [EU] member states … admit migrants. This has and will have consequences – including for us. Meanwhile, they should tolerate the fact that we do not wish to do so."

    His anti-migrant stance has placed Orban at the front of the pack of increasingly hostile leaders in Central Europe that have grown increasingly unhappy with the progressive agenda of politicians close to Brussels.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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