Hungary Law Targeting Those Who Help Refugees 'Blatantly Xenophobic,' Says UN

A police officer with a dog patrols along the border fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border near Roszke on April 28, 2017. (Zoltan Gergely Kelemen/MTI via AP)

The United Nations blasted as “blatantly xenophobic” a new law passed in Hungary that criminalizes anyone who provides aid to undocumented migrants and refugees, including monitoring human-rights conditions at the border.

The Hungarian “Stop Soros” bills passed Wednesday — coinciding with World Refugee Day — and applies to individuals as well as nongovernmental organizations. Within the legislative package was a constitutional amendment declaring that Hungary would not settle an “alien population.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party ensured the 160-18 passage with their legislative supermajority.

Orban said Hungary will “tolerate” the admittance of migrants by some EU members. “This has and will have consequences – including for us,” he said. “Meanwhile, they should tolerate the fact that we do not wish to do so.”

There are some 55,000 NGOs registered in Hungary, and ones deemed to “support immigration” may be subjected to a 25 percent tax under a government push.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the new laws will target lawyers, advisers, volunteers and legally resident family members for a wide range of activities including providing legal information on migration or advising refugees and migrants. Offending NGOs could lose their right to work in the country, while individuals could face up to a year in prison.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement that the vote “is an attack on fundamental human rights and freedoms in Hungary.”

“The constant stoking of hatred by the current government for political gain has led to this latest shameful development, which is blatantly xenophobic and runs counter to European and international human rights standards and values,” Zeid said.

“As I have stressed repeatedly, we recognize the responsibility of the Hungarian State to govern its borders, but this legislation threatens the safety and human rights of migrants and refugees, as well as the vital work of NGOs and human rights defenders providing protection and assistance to them. It makes illegal the act of helping those who may be in dire need,” he added. “To target those dealing with the most vulnerable, simply because they are foreigners, is truly disgraceful.”

Amnesty International’s Europe Director Gauri van Gulik charged that “criminalizing essential and legitimate human rights work is a brazen attack on people seeking safe haven from persecution and those who carry out admirable work to help them.”

“It is a new low point in an intensifying crackdown on civil society and it is something we will resist every step of the way,” he vowed. “We will push back against the rising tide of institutional intolerance towards refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants and the attempts to stigmatize, intimidate and frighten Hungarian civil society organizations.”

Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said in a statement accompanying the legislation that the new laws are critical because “we want to use the bills to stop Hungary from becoming a country of immigrants.” They may go into effect July 1.