Hungary moves to jail NGOs for aiding migration

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Budapest (AFP)

NGO workers in Hungary could soon face prison after Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government tabled what it calls the "Stop Soros" laws to parliament Tuesday, targeting "organisers of illegal migration".

According to the text of the legislation, helping asylum-seekers to acquire refugee status could result in jail for up to one year if those persons were not in immediate danger, or had entered Hungary illegally.

"Hungary's security interests must come first," said state secretary Csaba Domotor, adding that the laws reflected the will of the people expressed at a parliamentary election April 8.

Since the vote last month, which Orban's ruling Fidesz party won by a landslide, the fiercely anti-immigration premier has vowed to accelerate a clampdown on NGOs funded by liberal US billionaire George Soros.

Orban, in power since 2010, has long accused the 87-year-old financier, of facilitating migration, and called NGO staff "Soros mercenaries".

Hungarian citizens deemed to have broken the laws could also be banned from going within 8 kilometres (5 miles) of border areas, while foreigners could be handed expulsion orders.

The package is set to be debated next week by the new parliament, in which Fidesz enjoy a powerful two-thirds majority.

Rights groups in Hungary had denounced draft versions of the package published earlier this year as an effort to stigmatise and intimidate voices critical of Orban's hardline anti-migration policies that include border detention camps for migrants.

Brussels and the European Parliament grouping that Fidesz belongs to -- the European People's Party -- have also expressed concerns about the Stop Soros proposals.

The UN's refugee agency the UNHCR urged Hungary Tuesday to "withdraw" the laws, as they "would significantly restrict the ability of NGOs and individuals to support asylum-seekers and refugees".

In March the EU's rights watchdog the Venice Commission began a probe into the laws' compliance with EU values, and is due to give its opinion next month.

Domotor said Tuesday while the government will listen to the Strasbourg-based body's verdict "no-one can give an ultimatum to Hungary".

In a speech in Paris on Tuesday, Soros said Orban had based his election campaign on "falsely accusing me of seeking to flood Europe, Hungary included, with Muslim refugees".

His Open Society Foundation said this month it was closing operations in Hungary begun in the 1980s and relocating to Germany in response to the "repressive" policies of Orban's government.