Amnesty International slams anti-migration bill in Hungary

In this photo taken Feb. 1, 2018 a poster is photographed in Budapest reading: Soros would settle millions from Africa and the Middle East. Stop Soros!. The Hungarian government said Tuesday Feb. 13, 2018 that it is sending a draft bill dubbed „Stop Soros” to parliament. The bill targets non-governmental organizations which it says are working to bring migrants to Hungary. (AP Photo/Pablo Gorondi)

BRUSSELS — A bill that would impose new regulations on organizations that work with migrants would allow the Hungarian government to target any immigrant rights groups it doesn't like, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

Amnesty International said the bill could empower the government to suspend, disband and fine NGOs working on migration. The human rights group called the legislation a "deeply disturbing and unjustified assault on civil society."

The draft legislation, which was submitted to parliament late Tuesday, would impose new operating requirements on civic groups that organize, support or finance migration.

Such groups would need permission from the interior minister for their activities and would have to pay a 25 percent levy on funding received from abroad, among other provisions.

"These proposals have nothing to do with protecting national security or borders, and everything (to do) with muzzling those who work to assist people in need and dare to raise their voices," Amnesty International Europe director Gauri van Gulik said.

The draft legislation is part of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's anti-migration campaign. Orban has blamed Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros for wanting to bring millions of migrants into Europe — though Soros has substantially revised his position since saying that a few years ago — and for funding organizations that work with immigrants.

The government has dubbed the bill "Stop Soros."

Leaders of the body that represents international civic groups in the Council of Europe and its advisory group joined in the criticism, saying the effects of the legislation could spread beyond the migration issue.

"Those NGOs targeted do not focus only on migration and refugees. They also provide services to the public affected by other vulnerabilities," said a statement from the Conference of INGOs and its Expert Council on NGO Law. "The draft laws could have the consequence of decreasing the services available for all vulnerable people in Hungary."

Some of the targeted NGOs, such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, provide legal aid to needy Hungarians as well as asylum-seekers, and advocate for democracy and the rule of law.

The Helsinki Committee described the government's proposed legislation as "not a bill, but a bulldozer."

"The government wants to arbitrarily label, malign and separate from society certain NGOs it dislikes and, eventually, force them to cease their operations."

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