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article imageHungary plans 'Stop Soros' laws amid refugee row

By Peter MURPHY (AFP)     Jan 18, 2018 in World

Hungary published details Thursday of tough anti-immigration laws named after "public enemy" George Soros amid a row over claims Budapest covered up a hike in refugee arrivals.

Hungarian-born US billionaire Soros has been called "a public enemy" by Prime Minister Viktor Orban who accuses the 87-year-old of orchestrating migration into Europe since the refugee crisis began in 2015.

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Hungary erected fences on its southern borders in 2015 and last year began holding all adult asylum-seekers in guarded border camps.

The latest three laws -- called the "Stop Soros law package" -- aim to shut remaining loopholes that allow "illegal immigration" to persist, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said in a radio interview.

The proposed measures include entry bans on foreigners and restraining orders stopping Hungarians approaching the border areas if they are deemed to be "supporting" or "organising" illegal immigration, according to the draft legislation published on the government website.

A 25-percent tax will also be levied on foreign funding received by organisations that support illegal immigration to help pay for border defence, the government says.

The proposals could go before parliament in February.

Although Soros is not mentioned by name in the bills, Kovacs accused the financier and philanthropist of destabilising Europe's future by "wanting as many migrants as possible" to arrive.

"It is a political programme in which migrant-assisting groups disguised as human rights organisations take part," he said.

The latest measures follow laws brought in last year that target nongovernmental organisations backed by Soros and the prestigious Budapest-based Central European University he founded in 1991.

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The 87-year-old's face also featured on billboards nationwide during a so-called "national consultation" campaign attacking his alleged pro-immigration "Soros Plan".

Soros has accused Orban of using "distortions and outright lies" in his campaigns against him.

The government has "sought to create an outside enemy to distract citizens" from issues like corruption, he said last year.

- Not publicised -

Orban's government meanwhile has been forced to reject claims that it covered up a sharp increase in the number of refugees it let in despite its anti-immigration campaigns.

The row was sparked by a government official telling the Times of Malta newspaper on January 10 that Budapest had "not publicised" its acceptance of 1,291 refugees in 2017, up from 432 in 2016.

Opposition parties have accused Orban, who only last week called migrants "Muslim invaders" of Christian Europe, of hypocrisy given his relentless attacks on Soros and the EU's mandatory refugee resettlement quota scheme.

Brussels has taken legal steps against Hungary over its refusal to take in 1,294 refugees under the plan.

Prisoners build a new  second fence at the Hungarian-Serbian border near Gara village in October 201...
Prisoners build a new, second fence at the Hungarian-Serbian border near Gara village in October 2016

Government officials have said Hungary has merely been fulfilling its international obligations to asylum seekers, and that the numbers have always been publicly available.

The controversy is an unexpected bump for Orban whose tough anti-immigration line has proved popular at home and kept him comfortably on course to win a third consecutive term in power on April 8.

According to Orban the election will decide if Hungary stays a "land for Hungarians or becomes a country of immigration".

"The 'Stop Soros' package can be used to deflect attention from the secretly accepted refugees," said Andras Biro-Nagy of the Policy Solutions think-tank.

"But it fits into a wider strategy of keeping alive the Soros campaign and the theme of protecting Hungary from foreign domination at all costs," he told AFP.

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