Hungary’s parliament began debating draft laws that would criminalise those who help undocumented migrants navigate the system as part of a crackdown on immigration by Prime Minister Viktor Orban‘s right-wing government.
The controversial set of measures, known collectively and informally as the “Stop Soros” bill, were considered by politicians on Tuesday in the capital, Budapest.
The draft bill, named after Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, targets NGOs and people deemed to be aiding people seeking asylum.
It is part of a campaign by Orban, encouraged by a landslide win in parliamentary elections in April, against Soros, who is accused by the ruling party Fidesz of encouraging refugees to go to the central European country.
According to the government, NGOs mainly financed by Soros work as “a network to facilitate illegal migration”.
“The people of Hungary have made it clear that they do not want Hungary to become an immigrant country,” the Hungarian government’s international communications office told Al Jazeera in a statement.
“It is our firm position that immigration poses a major risk and for this very reason it is a national security issue.”
Clamp down on asylum seekers
Refugee rights activists and NGOs have slammed the draft bill for cracking down on the asylum-seeking process.
“Access of justice and due process are fundamental European values and this legislation specifically targets that, saying asylum seekers shouldn’t be helped because if you help asylum seekers, you face the risk of being thrown in jail,” said Marta Pardavi, co-chair at Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has also urged the government to scrap the draft law.
“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,” it said in a statement last week.
Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull reporting from Budapest said: “The advance of Viktor Orban and his policies have proved to be unstoppable in three consecutive elections.
“It is as if this new law is aimed less at illegal migrants and more at civil society – the NGOs that promote individual rights over the excesses of the state.”
Al Jazeera’s Patrick Strickland contributed to this report