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Slovakian Refusal to Accept Muslim Refugees Worsens the Dilemma for Syrians

Slovakian Refusal to Accept Muslim Refugees Worsens the Dilemma for Syrians

A Syrian refugee holds a baby in an Bulgarian refugee camp set in the town of Harmanli, south-east of Sofia on November 12, 2013. Credit: Nikolay Doychinova/ AFP
A Syrian refugee holds a baby in an Bulgarian refugee camp set in the town of Harmanli, south-east of Sofia on November 12, 2013. Credit: Nikolay Doychinova/ AFP

With the evolving migration-crisis that has been taunting Europe, Slovakia has announced it will only accept Christian Syrians as asylum-seekers. According to Ivan Netik, Slovakian Interior Ministry’s spokesman, Muslims “wouldn’t feel at home” in Slovakia.

Netik explained that “we don’t have any mosques in Slovakia; so how can Muslims be integrated if they are not going to like it here?”

Over the past two years, the discussion around the European migration crisis has been heated with the death of many ‘boat refugees’ while crossing the Mediterranean sea, raising the moral question whether Europe bears responsibility towards refugees and asylum seekers.

Undocumented migrants on a rubber boat in the Aegean sea. Credit: Reuters
Undocumented migrants on a rubber boat in the Aegean sea. Credit: Reuters

Most refugees risking the ‘deadliest migration route’, as Human Rights Watch named the Mediterranean Sea, are from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea or Somalia. Due to Europe’s migration policy – that forces refugees to ask asylum in the country that they arrive in – most refugees end up in Greece, Turkey or Italy.

Italy in particular has repeatedly asked for solidarity from its fellow European countries due to its resources being under great pressure from the floods of refugees. After the European Union announced a plan to mandatorily share the burden and distribute the influx of refugees among the nation states – today there are more people on the run, hoping to find safety elsewhere than there were during World War II – most European countries protested the decision. Consequently, a ‘voluntary’ pact was agreed upon to dividing a total of 40,000 refugees who are already in Europe. The pact mandates that each country voluntarily decides on the number of refugees it is willing to give asylum. So far, there has been only agreement on 32.000 refugees.

Syrian refugees gather at Syntagma Square calling for Greek government assistance. Source: Getty
Syrian refugees gather at Syntagma Square calling for Greek government assistance. Source: Getty

Slovakia has, like other Central European countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, mostly been showing reticent during the migration debate that the Mediterranean tragedy caused. After pressure from EU officials, the Slovakian government expressed its willingness to welcome 200 refugees. However, not only is this number much lower than the 1,100 refugees that Brussels asked for, but the Slovakian government also stated that all 200 refugees must be Christian.

According to Netik, this requirement is not discriminatory, but intended to ensure cohesion in the Slovakian community, which counts mostly Christians. Netik also emphasized that refugees consider Slovakia a ‘transit country’, instead of a permanent base for refugees. Furthermore, Prime Minister Robert Fico said in May that there might be terrorists among Muslim immigrants, claiming to come for work or a better life.

Refugees warm their hands at a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, on Nov. 27. More Syrians are turning up in Europe. Many are trying to get to northern Europe, believing that is the best place to start a new life. Credit: Nikolay Doychinov/ AFP
Refugees warm their hands at a refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, on Nov. 27. More Syrians are turning up in Europe. Many are trying to get to northern Europe, believing that is the best place to start a new life. Credit: Nikolay Doychinov/ AFP

Earlier in January, Fico was quoted saying that Slovakia wouldn’t tolerate Muslim immigrants: “Since Slovakia is a Christian country, we cannot tolerate an influx of 300,000 – 400,000 Muslim immigrants who would like to start building mosques all over our land and trying to change the nature, culture and values of the state.”

Now, as it turns out, Slovakia won’t be tolerating even one Muslim immigrant. However, Slovakia is not the only Central European country resilient in its rejection to Muslim refugees. In its neighboring Czech Republic, a group called Bloc Against Islam started a petition with 145.000 signatures to keep Muslim immigrants from entering the country. Similarly, Poland has been acting upon its preference for Christian Syrians, before accepting to take in 2000 refugees – regardless of their religion – in July, writes the Financial Times.

A spokeswoman of the European Commission carefully reacted to the Slovakian position saying: “Let me remind you that in principle, we act here all in the letter and the spirit of the treaty which prevents any form of discrimination.” The secretary-general of the European Council Thorbjorn Jagland did blatantly call out Slovakia’s discrimination: “Refusing refugees on the grounds of their religion would be a blatant discrimination. Especially, during this unprecedented refugee crisis, there must be no place for xenophobia and discrimination.”

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