Hungary's right-wing government plans law allowing it to ban organisations that help immigrants

Viktor Orban's government unveils policy ahead of country's general election

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Thursday 15 February 2018 12:53
There have been numerous protests against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after his announcements about immigration
There have been numerous protests against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after his announcements about immigration

The right-wing populist Hungarian government of Viktor Orban has outlined plans for a new law that would give it the power to ban civil society groups that help immigrants and refugees.

The measure is one of the planks in Mr Orban’s drive against US financier George Soros, who has been the target of a state-backed national hate campaign because of his funding of liberal projects.

The law defines organisations that helps migrants as any 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”.

Hungary’s interior minister, the equivalent of its Home Secretary, would have to grant approval and a permit for any such organisation to operate, and could prevent them from doing any work on “national security” grounds.

The definition in the law covers organisations that do legal work, campaign, distributing information or recruiting volunteers with the aim of helping foreign nationals.

The new law would also require NGOs that did gain approval to pay a special 25 per cent tax on any international funding aimed at helping migrants and refugees.

Under the bill, activists for NGOs could also be issued with restraining orders to prevent them from going near Hungary’s borders, in order to hinder their work.

International NGOs condemned the new bill, which was introduced to the Hungarian Parliament ahead of elections to be held on 8 April this year.

Hungary has beefed up its border fence with Serbia in response to the refugee crisis

“This law would give the government carte blanche to target NGOs on the flimsiest of pretexts,” Gauri van Gulik, Europe director of Amnesty International said.

“In reality, these proposals have nothing to do with protecting national security or borders, and everything with muzzling those who work to assist people in need and dare to raise their voices.

“We call on Hungary to withdraw this bill, and it is high time for EU leaders, who have watched on the sidelines as Hungary crossed red line after red line, to finally take concrete action to stop this assault on civil society.”

Mr Orban has campaigned heavily on the issue of immigration to Hungary and claimed that the law will prevent the giving up of “national independence” and hinder politicians who he claimed wanted to “transform Hungary into an immigrant country”.

Opinion polls shows Fidesz, Mr Orban’s party, is on course to win a huge victory in the election. A rolling average of opinion polls ahead of the contest shows his party on over 50 per cent of the vote, which would give them a majority. Polling in second place on 17 per cent is Jobbik, an extreme far-right party, while the centre-left social democrats trial in third position on around 12 per cent.

At least part of the new law would require a two-thirds majority in the parliament to pass because it affects the “basic law” of the country’s constitution.

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