February 14, 2018 / 12:28 PM / 11 days ago

Hungary submits anti-immigration 'Stop Soros' bill to parliament

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s nationalist government introduced legislation that would empower the interior minister to ban non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that support migration and pose a “national security risk”.

The bill, submitted to parliament late on Tuesday, is a key part of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s anti-immigration campaign targeting U.S. financier George Soros whose philanthropy aims to bolster liberal and open-border values in eastern Europe.

The government says the bill, which would also impose a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to NGOs that back migration in Hungary, is meant to deter illegal immigration Orban says is eroding European stability and has been stoked in part by Soros.

Hungary and Poland are both under nationalist governments that have clashed with the European Union leadership in Brussels over their perceived authoritarian drift deviating from EU standards on democracy and rule of law.

But Orban’s message, championing conservative Christian beliefs and rejecting multiculturalism, has gone down well with Hungarian voters and his Fidesz party is expected to secure a third straight term in a general election due on April 8.

The bill says that NGOs that “sponsor, organise or support the entry or stay of third-country citizens on Hungarian territory via a safe third country to extend international protection ... qualify as organisations supporting migration”.

Such activity - including campaigning, advocacy, recruiting volunteers, producing information booklets - would have to be approved by the interior minister, who could deny permission if he saw a “national security risk”.

If an NGO continued with such activity, Hungarian prosecutors could act to withdraw the NGO’s tax number, essentially paralysing them, slap them with heavy fines and ultimately dissolve them.

TAX BITE

A government billboard is seen in Budapest, Hungary, February 14, 2018. A billboard reads: 'Soros wants to transplant millions from Africa and the Middle East'. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Organisations that support migration will have to pay tax on the foreign funding or assets they receive, the bill says, with a possible exemption on funding that serves humanitarian goals.

Activists who organise or support migration could also face restraining orders preventing them from approaching the EU’s external borders in Hungary.

Orban has been embroiled in an escalating “Stop Soros” feud with the 87-year-old Hungarian-born Jew, waging a billboard and media campaign asserting that he would “settle millions from Africa and the Middle East”.

Soros has rejected the campaign against him as “distortions and lies” meant to create a false external enemy.

Pro-government media reported earlier that the new legislation could lead to a ban on Soros, who has U.S. and Hungarian citizenship, entering the country.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, an NGO that has been providing support for the legal and human rights of various groups including asylum seekers and prisoners since 1994, said the bill was unacceptable and served political goals.

“(Its goal) is to stigmatise certain civil organisations that the government does not like... and to distance them from society, and in the end make their operation impossible,” the committee, which receives a major chunk of its funding from Soros, said in a statement.

Poland, Hungary and other ex-communist eastern member states of the EU have all pushed a strong anti-immigrant stance, even though the number of asylum seekers who want to stay in these countries are very few compared to western European countries.

Last year, the Orban government introduced a measure requiring NGOs that get money from abroad to register with the state, raising alarm in the EU and United States.

The European Commission said last year it was taking Budapest to the EU’s top court over its NGO laws as well as a higher education law that targets the Central European University in Budapest founded by Soros.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; editing by Mark Heinrich

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