EU in threat over Hungary university and asylum moves

A Hungarian soldier patrols at the border fence at the Tompa border station transit zone - expanded to become one of two new detention centres for asylum seekers - on 6 April 2017 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Hungary has been widely condemned over plans to forcibly house asylum seekers in shipping containers surrounded by razor wire

The EU has warned it could take legal action against Hungarian legislation cracking down on higher education, non-governmental organisations and asylum-seekers.

The deputy head of the bloc's executive Commission, Frans Timmermans, said it was determined to uphold EU values.

Thousands of Hungarians have protested against laws which could see the closure of a prestigious university.

Hungary is also forcibly housing asylum seekers in secured shipping containers.

There was a serious question whether that was compatible with EU law, Mr Timmermans said at a news conference.

He said the Commission would consider its next steps in coming weeks and would act if there were no positive developments.

"Taken cumulatively, the overall situation in Hungary is a cause of concern for the Commission," Mr Timmermans said.

Hungary's increasingly radical right-wing Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has declared war on liberalism, reports BBC's Nick Thorpe, in Budapest.

Hungary to detain all asylum seekers in border camps

Large protest in support of Hungary's Soros-backed university

His government has come under growing criticism of its treatment of asylum seekers - including on Monday, when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the container camps would surrounded by razor wire would "have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered".

Mr Grandi also said he was "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".

Hungary's Higher Education Law, signed earlier this week, could force the closure of the Central European University (CEU), founded by philanthropist George Soros and ranked among the top 200 universities in the world in eight disciplines.

Last Sunday, Budapest also saw the largest protest yet against the move, which has also inspired an international campaign of solidarity.

Late on Tuesday, US state department spokesman Mark Toner urged the Hungarian government to suspend implementation of the law.

Another protest is planned in Budapest on Wednesday evening.

But the Hungarian government says it will not respond to the campaign, saying CEU has a year to comply with the new rules.

The Central European University

Image copyright AFP
  • Founded to "resuscitate and revive intellectual freedom" in parts of Europe that had endured the "horrific ideologies" of communism and fascism
  • Occupies a building that began as an aristocrat's palace before becoming state-owned offices for a planned socialist economy
  • Has 1,440 students - 335 from Hungary and the rest from 107 other countries
  • Presents itself as a champion of free speech, with links to universities in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Kazakhstan

Hungary passes bill targeting Central European University

Hungarian attack on George Soros prompts NGO anger

The university built to defend democracy

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