The Czech Republic this week accepted the first refugees within the EU allotted quotas. However, instead of the expected thirty people only four arrived, following set-backs indicative of future problems. Simultaneously, a meeting of the Visegrad Group sharply rejected the EC’s efforts to introduce a permanent relocation mechanism for refugees.
The Czech Republic was strongly opposed to a redistribution of refugees from the start, but after being outvoted on the matter in Brussels, the country reluctantly agreed to take in close to 2,700 refugees by the end of 2017 from the countries most burdened by the migrant crisis –Greece and Italy. The first batch of refugees was due to arrive this week – twenty from Greece and ten from Italy - but instead of the projected 30 people only four turned up. The Czech Interior Ministry used its right to veto refugees on the grounds of security and refused all ten from Italy and 13 from Greece on the grounds that it was not possible to ascertain their identity and give them security clearance. Seven of the group of twenty selected in Greece received approval, but three of them fled the refugee camp ahead of the planned move, so as not to be transferred to the Czech Republic. In the end, only four people arrived, a married couple from Syria and their two grown sons, who have now all filed for asylum in the country. They have been placed in a facility for refugees belonging to the Interior Ministry and are being given assistance in settling down while their asylum request is being processed.
This slow start to the redistribution process is not altogether surprising. The process has been much slower than expected throughout the EU and the Czech authorities have made it clear they will security-screen refugees very thoroughly in order to minimize the risks. They have also pointed to the risks of refugees attempting to flee to other EU states once they are “allocated” here by the EU redistribution mechanism – the country’s chief argument for rejecting refugee quotas.
A recent unsuccessful attempt by a Czech NGO to relocate 150 Christians from Iraq to the Czech Republic has been grist to the mill of the many critics of redistribution in this country. 49 of the 89 Iraqis who came here voluntarily and received asylum either attempted to move to Germany or went back to their home country. The project was scrapped by the government shortly after.
While the Czech Republic has not joined Slovakia and Hungary in taking the issue of mandatory quotas to court, Prague is determined to fight the latest EC proposal for a permanent relocation mechanism and is seeking allies among EU countries which have grown increasingly skeptical with regard to the viability of such a scheme. Prague had no problem reaching agreement on the matter with representatives of the Visegrad Group this week where the idea of a permanent relocation mechanism met with severe criticism. Czech, Slovak, Polish and Hungarian heads of Parliament agreed on the need to protect the sovereignty of national parliaments and the speaker of the Hungarian Parliament László Kövér even warned against attempts to “federalize” the European Union.
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