Monday

23rd Apr 2018

Hungary plans to paralyse NGOs dealing with migration

  • "A government that can be blackmailed will give up national independence and transform Hungary into an immigrant country," argues Hungary's PM Orban (Photo: Viktor Orban's Facebook page)

Hungary's government submitted a so-called "Stop Soros" legislation package to parliament late Tuesday (13 February), which would grant the interior minister powers to ban civil groups deemed to support migration.

The bill is part of prime minister Viktor Orban's anti-immigration drive that has recently targeted Hungarian-born US financier and philanthropist George Soros, who has been promoting liberal values through his foundation, Open Society.

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Rights groups say the draft is the latest effort by the nationalist government to undermine civil society, democratic values and curb critical voices ahead of elections on 8 April, where Orban's ruling Fidesz party is expected to win a third consecutive term.

The bill says NGOs that "sponsor, organise or otherwise support a third-country national's entry or stay in Hungary via a safe third country in order to ensure international protection" qualify as organisations that support migration.

The definition also includes organisations that do advocacy work, recruit volunteers, and produce and distribute information material.

Under the bill, these organisations would have to be approved by the Hungarian interior minister, who could deny permission if he saw a "national security risk".

The bill would also impose a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to NGOs that help migration in Hungary.

If organisations fail to comply, Hungarian prosecutors could withdraw their tax number, impose punishing fines, and eventually dissolve them.

The government argues that the bill aims to deter illegal immigration, which Orban claims erodes European identity and security and has been promoted by Soros and organisations partially funded through his foundations.

The third element of the bill would have activists who support migration - or whose presence and activities are contrary to Hungary's national security interests - face restraining orders to prevent them from approaching the EU's external borders in Hungary.

Any foreign citizen seen to be supporting migration could be banned from Hungary entirely.

Orban's government has also continued a media campaign against Soros, claiming that the Hungarian-born Jewish businessman wants to "settle millions from Africa and the Middle East".

"The proposed laws are not about George Soros and the Open Society Foundations," Soros's foundation said in a statement last month when news of the planned bill broke.

"Their aim is to criminalise civil society and to impose stigma on the last remaining independent voices in Hungary that are not controlled by the ruling party, three months before the parliamentary election," the statement added.

Hungary had already tightened rules on NGOs last year. The European Commission said that the legislation broke EU rules and referred Budapest to the European Court of Justice over the issue.

Human rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday (14 February) called the bill "deeply disturbing and unjustified assault on civil society".

"In reality, these proposals have nothing to do with protecting national security or borders, and everything [to do] with muzzling those who work to assist people in need and dare to raise their voices," Gauri van Gulik, the organisation's Europe director said in a statement.

Viktor Orban, in a speech to Fidesz's parliamentary group on Wednesday, said that the stakes at the election are whether to have an independent government after the ballot or one that is exposed to blackmail.

"A government that can be blackmailed will give up national independence and transform Hungary into an immigrant country," Orban said, according to pro-government daily newspaper Magyar Idok.

Orban claimed that foreign economic and political interest groups, with the leadership of George Soros, want a weak and blackmailed government in Hungary.

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