Victor Orban's right-wing Hungarian government announces plan to stop people helping refugees and migrants

Laws would force NGOs to get government permits, place taxes on their income from abroad and ban advocacy groups from borders where asylum-seekers file claims

Samuel Osborne
Tuesday 10 April 2018 11:41
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Viktor Orban re-elected as Prime Minister of Hungary

Viktor Orban’s right-wing populist party has vowed to would crack down on organisations helping migrants and refugees, in an announcement made just a day after it won an overwhelming election victory.

The autocratic prime minister portrayed himself as the saviour of Hungary’s Christian culture against Muslim migration into Europe, an image which resonated with more than 2.5 million voters.

His Fidesz party won a two-thirds super majority in the country’s parliament, which would allow it and its small ally, the Christian democrats, to push through changes to constitutional laws.

It would also enable it to push through the so-called “Stop Soros” bill, said Janos Halasz, the party’s parliamentary spokesman.

Mr Orban has claimed the opposition is collaborating with the United Nations, the European Union and the wealthy philanthropist George Soros to turn Hungary into an “immigrant country.”

The draft law targeting advocates for refugees could come as soon as May, the party said.

It could make it hard for groups working with asylum-seekers to continue their activities in Hungary.

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The laws would force NGOs working with migrants and asylum seekers to get government permits, income received from abroad would be taxed by 25 per cent, advocacy groups could be banned from going closer than 8km (5 miles) from Hungary’s borders - where asylum-seekers file claims - and foreigners without authorization to help refugees could be banned from Hungary.

Their activity would have to be approved by the interior minister, who could deny permission if he saw a “national security risk”.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which provides legal help for asylum-seekers, said it would not let the election results derail its mission.

The committee receives support from Mr Soros’s Open Society Foundations and is frequently identified by the government as one of the “foreign agents” supposedly working against Hungary’s national interests.

“Our association will continue its activities for as long as people in dire straits ask us for help,” the group said. “We are the same age as Hungarian democracy, established in 1989, of which there is less and less left.”

The Helsinki Committee said it was clear Fidesz “considers its power interests more important than the values of the state of law and democracy, human rights and the Constitution.”

Before the election, Mr Orban’s government had warned Hungary would descend into chaos should it become an “immigrant country” like France or Belgium, with funds meant for Hungarian families or the country’s underprivileged Roma minority diverted to migrants.

The government said the presence of migrants would weaken Hungary’s security and increase its risk of terrorism.

He also warned the migrants would halt Hungary’s economic development, would weaken government support for rural areas, would threaten the safety of women and girls, and would turn the capital Budapest into an “unrecognizable” city.

“If the dam bursts, if the borders are opened, if immigrants set foot in Hungary, there will be no going back,” Mr Orban had said at a final campaign rally on Friday.

Viktor Orban, Hungary's prime minister, addresses supporters after the announcement of the partial results of parliamentary election in Budapest, Hungary

A spokesman the European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, would write to Mr Orban to congratulate him on his victory but emphasise defending democracy and values was the common duty of all member states with no exception.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said in a statement: “During your renewed term as prime minister I count on you to play a constructive role in maintaining our unity in the EU.”

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, congratulated Mr Orban, a spokesman said, adding she would work with his new government despite their differences on migration.

The first leader to congratulate Mr Orban was Marine Le Pen, who heads France’s National Front.

Poland’s deputy foreign minister and envoy to the EU, Konrad Szymanski, hailed his victory as “a confirmation of Central Europe’s emancipation policy”.

Before the election, Hungary had already signalled it would be looking to expand co-operation on migrant policy with neighbouring Austria, the only country in Western Europe with a far-right group in government, as well as Italy, where the centre-left Democratic Party lost to anti-establishment and right-wing parties which campaigned hard against immigration.

“Orban is implementing sustainable and correct policies for the people of his country... Hungary’s voters have rewarded that once again,” Austria’s vice chancellor and leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, said.

Mr Orban’s victory could embolden him to put more stock in a Central European alliance against the EU’s migration policies, working with right-wing nationalists in Poland and Austria, and further expose cracks in the 28-nation bloc.

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