Wednesday 18 July 2018

New Hungarian law makes helping asylum seekers a crime

Campaign: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Photo: Reuters
Campaign: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Photo: Reuters

Matthew Day

Hungary's parliament has passed legislation making helping asylum seekers punishable with up to a year in prison.

The law swept through a lower house of parliament dominated by Fidesz, the country's governing party, by 160 votes to 18 despite calls from the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's human rights watchdog, for the vote to be delayed until the legislation was reviewed.

Under the provisions of the new legislation, nicknamed the "Stop Soros" law, it becomes a criminal offence to carry out "organisational activities" that assist immigrants not entitled to protection with asylum requests, and to help people "residing illegally in Hungary" to get a residence permit.

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, campaigned on the unfounded theory that George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire financier, wants to flood Europe with Muslim immigrants. Orban's party was re-elected with a two-thirds majority in April.

Critics say that the law is vague and that organisations offering legal advice and charity to immigrants could fall foul of it.

They say it represents a further attempt by the government to silence or eradicate NGOs that do not conform to its nationalist policies and agenda.

Mr Orban has accused NGOs funded by Mr Soros of conspiring against the state and representing a threat to national security.

Vowing to defend "Christian Europe", Mr Orban made the "Stop Soros" bill a flagship law and one of first to be passed by the new parliament.

The parliament also approved a change to the country's constitution that states that an "alien population" cannot be settled in Hungary.

The introduction of the law could propel Hungary towards another bruising encounter with the EU over refugees.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has announced an emergency mini-summit to try to bridge deep EU divisions over migration ahead of next week's crunch meeting of EU leaders that could spell the end of Angela Merkel's government.

Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Greece and Bulgaria are expected to attend what Jean-Claude Juncker described as an "informal working meeting" on Sunday.

The president of the European Commission will hope to salvage his package of reforms on EU asylum and migration rules, which were exposed as inadequate during the height of the migration crisis, at a full European Council summit on June 28. Ms Merkel hopes the meeting will end a stand-off with her Christian Social Union (CSU) coalition partners over her migration policy.

Horst Seehofer, the interior minister and CSU leader, has given her two weeks to negotiate a solution with Germany's European partners or he will order police to start turning away migrants at the border.

That would leave Ms Merkel with little choice other than to sack him, which could bring down her government if he pulls the CSU out of the coalition.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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