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Hungaryʼs gov’t submits modified ‘Stop Soros’ package amidst criticism

The government submitted a modified version of a bill intended to crack down on NGOs that allegedly support illegal migration to Parliament on Wednesday. The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is among those urging Hungary to scrap the draft law.

The government has long been preparing to submit its “Stop Soros” law, and finally did so yesterday.

“We need an action plan to defend Hungary and this is the ‘Stop Soros’ package of bills,” the Ministry of Interior said in a comment accompanying the legislation.

The draft now submitted is a modified version of the one prepared in February, which would have imposed a 25% tax on foreign donations to non-governmental organizations that back migration. This paragraph has been removed.

Under the new legislation, however, individuals or groups that help migrants who are not entitled to protection to submit requests for asylum, or who help illegal migrants gain status to stay in Hungary, will be liable to jail sentences.

Related amendments to Hungaryʼs Constitution would clarify that Hungary can grant asylum only in cases in which it is the first safe country in which an asylum-seeker arrives. They would also reinforce the principle that decisions on who is allowed to live in the territory of the country are a matter of national law.

Amendments to the constitution submitted by Minister of Justice László Trócsányi in a separate bill include the introduction of a Supreme Administrative Court, which would function as a supreme court over the already existing eight regional administrative courts.

As justice minister in the previous Fidesz-KDNP government, Trócsányi pressed for introducing such a court, which would handle disputes over the exercise of public power, but the Constitutional Court ruled against legislation on the courtʼs establishment. The Constitutional Court argued that the legislation should have required a two-thirds majority for passage.

New draft law broadly condemned

The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, immediately responded to the submission of the Stop Soros law, saying it would deprive refugees and asylum-seekers of vital services and encourage a “rising xenophobic attitude.”

“UNHCR is seriously concerned that these proposals, if passed, would deprive people who are forced to flee their homes of critical aid and services, and further inflame tense public discourse and rising xenophobic attitudes,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement in Geneva.

“Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right, it is not a crime,” said Pascale Moreau, Director of UNHCR’s Europe Bureau. “We are particularly concerned that the Government is targeting those who, in a purely humanitarian role, help people who are seeking asylum.”

Amnesty International also reacted, with Europe Director Gauri van Gulik saying: “In their desperate drive to make Hungary the most hostile territory for asylum seekers and refugees in Europe, the Hungarian government has taken their attempt to enshrine intolerance, xenophobia and racism in law to a new level. This cruel plan to hermetically seal their borders would criminalize legitimate activities such as offering information and providing legal advice to asylum-seekers. This could result in paralysis for organizations and leave already vulnerable people in an ever more precarious situation,” van Gulik said.

Amnesty has been directly targeted by the Fidesz-led government for what the latter claims is its pro-migrant stance.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee - also among the NGOs targeted by the government - issued a detailed statement, noting that “this new chapter in the Hungarian governmentʼs attempts to curb independent civil society and the rule of law threatens bringing back an era of fear, unheard of since the fall of communist dictatorship. Cosmetic changes to the bill will mean no solution to this – the bill must be dropped.”

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee further noted that:

“- Seeking asylum is a human right, not a crime. Based on EU and Hungarian law, people threatened by war, torture and persecution have the right to save their life and to seek protection. Individuals providing legal advice and information to asylum-seekers in need act on the clear basis of EU law and commit no crime. Punishing anyone with imprisonment who gives legal assistance to an asylum-seeker or publishes an information leaflet is a breach of EU and international law, and ignores the right to due process.

- It is Hungarian authorities who permit the entry of asylum-seekers into Hungarian territory by admitting them into the transit zones at the southern border. EU law clearly sets out that while the asylum procedure is on-going, asylum-seekers have the right to stay in the country. Obviously, it is the Hungarian Immigration and Asylum Office that grants residence permits, not individuals or NGOs.

- The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, its staff members and contracted attorneys provide free-of-charge legal assistance to persons who have already submitted an asylum application and who have been allowed to enter Hungary. This activity is in full compliance with the law.”