EU investigates Hungary for anti-immigration legislation

By Allen Cone   |   April 12, 2017 at 3:52 PM
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April 12 (UPI) -- The European Union may take action against Hungary for legislation that refuses to take in asylum seekers and threatens to close a university in Bucharest.

Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, said Tuesday that Hungary must follow the values set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union of "human rights including human dignity, freedom and equality, and societies which are defined by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and solidarity."

Timermans said the EU will complete an investigation of Hungary's amended higher education law "as soon as possible" and that the commission would consider possible next steps by the end of this month.

"We need to quickly complete a thorough legal assessment of [the new law's] compatibility with the free movement of services and the freedom of establishment," Timmermans told journalists in Brussels.

Hungary's Higher Education Law, signed Monday, could force the closure of the Central European University, founded by philanthropist George Soros. It has an enrollment of 1,440 students and 370 faculty members from 130 countries, according to the school's website.

Under the new law, CEU would be forbidden from offering U.S.-accredited degrees, which draw foreign students. The government could also deny work permits to some non-EU teachers and students.

"The recently adopted Higher Education Law is troubling many people in Europe's academic community, as well as politicians across Europe and beyond," Timmermans told journalists in Brussels, Belgium. "It is perceived by many as an attempt to close down the Central European University."

Tens of thousands of people protested Sunday against the university plan on the streets of Budapest, but Hungary's president, János Áder, signed the measures into law the following day.

The Hungarian government said the school has a year to comply with the new rules.

On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner urged the Hungarian government to suspend implementation of the education law.

"The legislation, we believe, can also similarly threaten the operations of other American universities with degree programs in Hungary, so it goes beyond just Central European University," Toner said in a news conference.

Timmermans said the new asylum law adopted by the national parliament at the end of March "also raises serious doubts about compatibility with EU law."

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a release new asylum-seekers, including children, are detained in shipping containers surrounded by high razor fences at the border.

"We remain very concerned about highly disturbing reports of serious incidents of ill treatment and violence against people crossing the border into Hungary, including by state agents," Grandi said. "These unacceptable practices must be brought to an end and I urge the Hungarian authorities to further investigate any allegation of abuse and violence," he added.

He said as of Friday, 110 people, including four unaccompanied children and children with their families, were held there.

"The situation for asylum-seekers in Hungary, which was already of deep concern to UNHCR, has only gotten worse since the new law introducing mandatory detention for asylum-seekers came into effect," Grandi said.

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