GENEVA (Reuters) - New Hungarian laws that criminalize people for helping asylum-seekers are shameful and blatantly xenophobic, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said on Thursday.
The legislation, passed by the Hungarian parliament on Wednesday, could come into force as early as July 1, he said in a statement. This makes it a criminal offense to provide advice to migrants and refugees or to monitor human rights at borders, he added. Individuals could get a year in prison and organizations could be banned.
Hungary says the legislation targets those assisting illegal immigrants, including by helping people to seek asylum when they are not entitled to it.
Zeid accused the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban of using the issue to win votes.
“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,” he said.
Orban’s right-wing Fidesz party, which increased its parliamentary majority in April on an anti-immigration platform, has demonized Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros and the liberal NGOs he backs, naming the new legislation the STOP Soros law.
Orban accuses Soros of encouraging mass immigration to undermine Europe, a charge Soros denies, and has played on memories of large numbers of mostly Muslim migrants fleeing war and poverty who surged into Hungary in the summer of 2015.
Most moved on to wealthier western European countries, but Orban has branded the migrants a threat to Europe’s Christian civilization and built a border fence along Hungary’s southern borders to deter more from coming.
The U.N. statement said Hungarian authorities had also announced they would introduce a 25 percent tax on funding for NGOs that “support immigration”.
Zeid said the new laws struck at the heart of the European Union’s values of pluralism, tolerance and solidarity.
“It continues and deepens the Hungarian government’s assault on civic space, threatening those who work on behalf of the most vulnerable and in defense of our highest human rights values.”
The Orban government expects possible legal action by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, over the new law.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and David Stamp