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Hungary’s ‘Stop Soros’ bill suggests jail time for those who help migrants

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the European Union's heads of state dinner at the Sofia Tech Park in Sofia, on May 16, 2018. (Stoyan Nenov/AFP/Getty Images)

There are few refugees in Hungary — in part because Budapest has tightened its immigration policies and made clear it doesn't want them there. In 2017, only 1,291 migrants got international protection in Hungary. More than 1 million migrants have entered the European Union since 2015.

But this week, legislation submitted to the Hungarian parliament took extra steps to ensure that undocumented migrants won't get assistance to stay there — by targeting the people who help them. Right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban calls the bill “Stop Soros” — a name that takes aim at Hungarian American philanthropist George Soros, who helps fund a number of human rights nongovernmental organizations. The bill suggests punishment of up to a year in prison for individuals or organizations that help migrants submit requests for asylum when they are not entitled to protection.

Many NGO and advocacy groups say they are the direct targets of this legislation, which would hamper work they say is legal.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a leading human rights NGO, said in a statement that this moment in Hungarian government threatens to bring back “an era of fear, unheard of since the fall of communist dictatorship.”

The bill “violates everything we define as the rule of law or European values,” the organization said.

But the Hungarian Interior Ministry said that “sanctioning these [groups] is justified.” The government claims that migrants threaten to disrupt Hungary's Christian identity and threaten its national security.

Hard-liner Orban, who was reelected in April, has served as prime minister since 2010. And Soros, who is Jewish, found himself at the center of Orban's campaign this year, as the prime minister pushed his anti-immigration agenda and demonized Soros as the face behind NGOs that he said want to fill Hungary with refugees. In a March speech, Orban compared kicking Soros-funded organizations out of the country to sending home “the [Ottoman] sultan with his army, the Habsburg kaiser with his raiders and the Soviets with their comrades.”

George Soros's philanthropic organization is closing down its Budapest office. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has blamed Soros for a host of issues. (Video: Reuters)

Earlier this month, Soros's Open Society Foundation announced it would leave Hungary and relocate to Germany.

“The government of Hungary has denigrated and misrepresented our work,” the foundation's president, Patrick Gaspard, said at the time.

An earlier version of the “Stop Soros” bill proposed a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to groups that encourage migration, a detail that was removed in the latest draft.

But the Hungarian government also suggested this week that the constitution be amended to say that “foreign populations cannot be settled in Hungary.” The government also wants to refuse asylum for migrants who reach Hungary after passing through another country where they were not persecuted. That would disqualify many of those who make long journeys through multiple countries before they reach the E.U.

The United Nations' high commissioner for refugees warned that the legislation could “further inflame tense public discourse and rising xenophobic attitudes.”

And on Tuesday, Soros said in a speech at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London that Orban is “now posing as the defender of his version of a Christian Europe that is challenging the values on which the European Union was founded.”

This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in Washington. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Pompeo “underscored the importance of maintaining a vibrant civil society.”

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