Hungarian Premier, Viktor Orban. Credit: EPA/LISI NIESNER
Hungarian Premier, Viktor Orban. Credit: EPA/LISI NIESNER

The Hungarian government led by Viktor Orban has proposed a package of measures that would punish NGOs helping migrants. The Council of Europe has condemned the move and expressed its concern.

On February 14, a package of measures introducing restrictions on NGOs providing services to migrants and refugees came before the Hungarian parliament. The government then repeated that it is considering abandoning negotiations for a UN-sponsored global compact on migration. 

"It is unacceptable that migration should become a basic human right as contemplated by the UN agreement under preparation," Premier Viktor Orban said. 

"Stop Soros!" package 

Just over a month from the elections on April 8 when the national populist leader will be seeking his third mandate, the ruling party Fidesz is insisting on the 'threat' presented by the massive influx of Muslim migrants, for which it blames the billionaire American-Hungarian philanthropist George Soros. 

The so-called "Stop Soros!" package contemplates stiff penalties for civil society organizations that provide services to migrants including humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers waiting to know their fate in containers on the southern border and legal assistance to refugees wanting to make an asylum claim. The proposals also include a 25 percent levy on foreign NGO funding and other sanctions, including the total ban on alleged 'foreign agents'. 

The measures are a cornerstone of the election campaign of a party that has ignited public furor against migrants and Soros for years. And opinion polls suggest that it is a winning tactic as Fidesz is currently polling around 53 percent. 

Criticism from the Council of Europe 

The Council of Europe has voiced its concern over the proposals. "I am extremely concerned about the package of measures announced by the Hungarian government under the name 'Stop Soros'. If they are approved by parliament they will introduce further arbitrary restrictions on the indispensable work of NGOs and human rights defenders in Hungary," the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, says. 

"The package … introduces administrative and financial requirements that restrict the freedom of association. Such restrictions cannot be considered necessary in a democratic society and are therefore contrary to international standards," Muižnieks continued. Overall, the package is "stigmatizing and will undoubtedly have a dissuasive effect on NGOs but also on donors and on the people who work for and with these organizations."

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