BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungarian lawmakers voted to tighten the country’s asylum eligibility rules and threatened Wednesday to incarcerate people who help asylum-seekers, votes that coincided with a United Nations’ observance dedicated to refugees.
The approved changes include a constitutional amendment making it more difficult for refugees to qualify for asylum depending on how they reached Hungary. For example, asylum-seekers’ claims will be rejected if they traveled through countries where they were not persecuted or at risk of persecution.
The criteria would make it possible to turn back Syrian refugees who cross into Hungary from Serbia, like most now do after following a route through the Balkan region to western Europe.
The amendment passed on a 159-5 vote, with lawmakers from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, a small ally party and the nationalist Jobbik party all in support.
The National Assembly also voted 160-18 to pass the so-called “Stop Soros” law, which allows criminal penalties of up to a year in prison for those convicted of aiding asylum-seekers. Orban blames financier George Soros and civic groups he supports for encouraging mass migration to Europe, charges they deny.
The law applies to “the promotion of illegal immigration” and would criminalize acts such as distributing informational leaflets or organizing “border observation.”
Orban has become an unrelenting opponent of immigration, especially by the Muslims he repeatedly calls a threat to Christian Europe. He was elected in April to a third consecutive term, his fourth overall, after campaigning almost exclusively on an anti-migration platform.
Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, even those Hungary recognizes as deserving protection, already have been affected by Orban’s uncompromising policies. His government has greatly restricted benefits and assistance for people escaping persecution or violence who hope to settle in Hungary.