Helping Migrants and Refugees Could Soon Be Illegal in Hungary

Hungary's government could soon make it illegal for organizations to assist migrants and refugees traveling through the country, government officials announced Tuesday.

The right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, which enjoys a super-majority in parliament, submitted a new version of its now infamous "Stop Soros" bill to parliament on Tuesday, and the new draft includes measures that would impose even harsher penalties on organizations assisting migrants and refugees, officials said.

The bill was first proposed in February as Orbán ran his re-election campaign on a vociferously anti-immigration platform that attacked billionaire philanthropist George Soros for allegedly helping migrants enter Europe. The bill called for organizations that "support illegal migration" to register with the government. It would also prohibit organizations from handing out food or blankets to refugees.

Under Orbán, Hungary has rejected the European Union's demand that each member state relocate around 160,000 refugees, who have been pouring into Europe over the past several years from the Middle East and Northern Africa. Instead, Hungary erected a wall with a barbed wire fence on its border with Serbia in an attempt to keep migrants out.

The majority of migrants were attempting to pass through Hungary on their way to Germany, which had an open-border policy toward migrants, and did not intend to settle permanently in Hungary. Nevertheless, Orbán has used the liberal, open-border ideology of Soros to launch an attack against the philanthropist and accuse him of supporting the Muslim takeover of Europe. The Soros-funded Open Society Foundation announced this month that it will leave Hungary because its employees are facing harassment.

The new draft of the "Stop Soros" bill has not yet been revealed to the public, but experts say it is likely to pass parliament without difficulty, no matter how draconian the new measures.

"Many NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and parliamentary groups, the United Nations, have voiced concerns that the first proposal would restrict the work of organizations helping migrants. The government says that these groups are helping migrants come to Hungary illegally. We are concerned that the law was aimed at intimidating organizations by introducing arbitrary taxation on these organizations and presenting them as a national security risk and saying that they are providing illegal services to migrants," Todor Gardos, an expert on Eastern Europe with the organization Human Rights Watch, told Newsweek from Hungary.

"It is very likely it will pass. The only question is how complicated their proposal is, and it might have to go through the national security committee [in parliament], so it could take some time. Because of the super-majority, there is no impediment to passing this law," Gardos continued.

Hungary's state secretary, Csaba Domotor, told reporters Tuesday that the government aims to pass the bill as soon as possible.

The original draft of the bill had proposed a 25 percent tax be levied against organizations taking foreign donations. Because the majority of non-governmental organizations rely on financial support from outside of the country, many observers argued that the bill could cripple Hungary's civil society and its humanitarian aid sector.