Migrant and refugee organizations in Hungary are facing an uncertain future after the country’s parliament passed legislation Wednesday that criminalizes helping undocumented immigrants, including asylum seekers.
The legislation makes several basic human-rights activities illegal. Helping refugees fill in forms, distributing information to asylum seekers about how to claim refuge or organizing professional networks to help migrants could result in a possible jail sentence as punishment, according to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human-rights group.
Only five lawmakers voted against the bill, with 159 voting for it. The legislation was proposed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling right-wing Fidesz party, which holds a super-majority in parliament.
It will become law in one or two weeks, according to a spokesperson for the the Hungarian parliament.
The vote went ahead in defiance of a request by the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe body that advises on constitutional matters, to postpone until the commission’s report on the legislation is published Friday.
Amnesty International Europe Director Gauri van Gulik described the law as “a brazen attack on people seeking safe haven from persecution and those who carry out admirable work to help them.”
In a statement published shortly after the vote, Gulik said the legislation was “a new low point in an intensifying crackdown on civil society and it is something we will resist every step of the way,” noting that it was “a bitter irony” that the law targeting those who help migrants and refugees was passed on World Refugee Day.
Hungary’s finance ministry is planning to submit separate legislation that would introduce a 25% tax on aid groups that support migration, Reuters reported Tuesday.
’Increasingly repressive environment’
Immigration featured prominently in April’s election, which saw Orban returned to power in a crushing landslide.
In the annual state of the union address in February, the Prime Minister likened immigration to a “flu epidemic” and described Hungary as the final bastion in a battle against “Islamization” in Europe.
He also defended the decision to build a fence on Hungary’s border with Serbia and Croatia in 2015, one of a number of anti-immigrant measures introduced since the height of the migration crisis in 2015 and slammed by human-rights groups.
In January 2017, Save the Children accused Hungary of secretly and unlawfully forcing refugees and migrants back across the border to Serbia.
The legislation adopted Wednesday is known informally as the “Stop Soros” law, a reference to Hungarian-born billionaire investor George Soros, whose support for refugees fleeing Africa and the Middle East in recent years has made him a frequent target for Orban’s right-wing coalition.
Last month, the Budapest branch of Open Society Foundations, founded by Soros, announced it was leaving Hungary for Germany because of the “increasingly repressive political and legal environment.”
A spokesperson for Orban accused the foundation at the time of wanting “to create an immigrant continent and an immigrant country.”