Hungary Approves Legislation Criminalizing Help To Migrants, Refugees

Individuals and organizations that aid displaced people seeking safety could end up in prison.

Hungary’s parliament passed a bundle of legislation that allows the prosecution of any individual or organization helping migrants enter the country illegally.

The “Stop Soros” bill, named after 86-year-old American billionaire George Soros, whose Open Society Foundations is active in Eastern Europe, means people could face prison time for such things as handing out information about the asylum process or providing migrants with financial assistance. The government also changed Hungary’s constitution to make resettling foreigners in the country illegal.

Parliament approved the measures on Wednesday ― World Refugee Day. The legislation takes effect after President Janos Ader signs it into law.

“We want to use the bills to stop Hungary from becoming a country of immigrants,” Interior Minister Sandor Pinter wrote in a statement attached to the legislation.

The bills fall in line with Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s push toward the right with his controversial views on immigration. Orban has referred to migration as “a poison,” and has called Syrian asylum seekers “Muslim invaders” looking to dismantle Hungary’s Christian identity (Muslims make up 0.4 percent of Hungary’s population). He also has erected border fences to keep people out, and opposes the European Union’s efforts to resettle refugees.

Lotte Leicht, director of Human Rights Watch in the EU, called Hungary’s newly passed legislation “appalling and unacceptable.” She urged European nations to “take action and ensure human rights are respected.”

“Criminalizing essential and legitimate human rights work is a brazen attack on people seeking safe haven from persecution and those who carry out admirable work to help them,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Europe director. “It is a new low point in an intensifying crackdown on civil society and it is something we will resist every step of the way.”

Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia on Aug. 27, 2015.
Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia on Aug. 27, 2015.
Bernadett Szabo / Reuters

European countries continue to grapple with the arrival of migrants and refugees ― albeit in much smaller numbers than in 2015 and 2016. Hungary is among the handful of governments tilting to the right, led by politicians who stoke anti-immigration sentiment.

Last week, Italy Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blocked a rescue vessel operating in the central Mediterranean from docking in any Italian port. The boat, carrying 629 migrants, was forced to instead head to Spain while governments sparred over how to tackle migration.

Meanwhile, the leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is uncertain, as her coalition government can’t reach consensus on whether to continue accepting migrants.

“The voices that have lost confidence in the system and believe the system is not working are finding allies throughout Europe,” Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan, head of the international program at the Migration Policy Institute, told HuffPost, explaining that right-wing voices like Orban’s are becoming more mainstream.

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