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22nd Jul 2018

Hungary to tax NGOs that 'help' migration

The Hungarian government on Wednesday (17 January) said it would propose a set of new laws that would tax and possibly sanction Hungarian groups which "assist illegal migration" and receive foreign funding.

The package was named 'Stop Soros', referring to George Soros, the Hungarian-born US billionaire whose foundation partly helps groups that advocate for the rights of refugees.

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According to the proposed measures, any organisation that aids illegal migration would have to register and provide their data to the courts.

Those organisations that receive more funding from outside of Hungary than from within Hungary would have to pay a tax of up to 25 percent on the funds received from abroad.

A further measure would make it possible to issue restraining orders against Hungarians who take part in organising illegal immigration, which would apply in any area within eight kilometres of the Schengen border.

Foreign nationals could also be banned from Hungary.

Interior minister Sandor Pinter explained at a press conference on Wednesday that UN personnel and diplomats would not fall under the possible restraining orders, and MPs who have reason to be in the area will also not be excluded from the border zone.

According to the government, the measures would be in force until the "end of the migration crisis".

Officials have not clarified what aiding illegal migration means precisely – the government expects civil organisations that help illegal migration to come forward by themselves.

The proposals' details will be published on Thursday.

The measures will not be introduced to the parliament immediately, but the government will hold a "public consultation" first.

Election campaign

Hungary's government is gearing up for elections on 8 April.

Fidesz, the party of prime minister Viktor Orban, is virtually unchallenged by a weak and divided opposition.

Hungary's State Audit Office recently fined the main opposition, the nationalist Jobbik party €820,000 for an anti-government billboard campaign - a move Jobbik thinks is politically motivated.

Orban has been a staunch opponent of migration, calling Muslim asylum seekers "invaders".

His government ran several anti-migration and anti-Soros campaigns to rally Fidesz supporters ahead of the election season.

The measures proposed in 'Stop Soros' package seem to serve the same reason.

Hungary has already targeted NGOs that receive funding from abroad with legislation, which the EU commission then referred to the European Court of Justice for breaking EU law.

Daniel Mate Szabo from Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, a human rights NGO, told Index news portal that with the latest measures "the government is trying to narrow the space of those who criticise it".

A report published on Wednesday on the state of democracy in the world by Freedom House, American-based non-governmental organisation, said that Hungary was the least free EU country.

Commission takes Orban's Hungary to court

The EU executive steps up several probes over Hungary's illiberal tendencies, while it is also suing Poland and the Czech Republic over migrant quotas.

Hungary and Poland defy EU authority

Hungary and Poland have said they "don't want a mixed population", amid a tug-of-war with the Commission on migrants and rule of law.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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