Council of Europe: Rejecting refugees on religious basis is pure discrimination
Slovakia has found itself at the center of world media attention and under fire from the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, considered the "watchdog of democracy" on the continent, because of the country's willingness to mainly receive a group of Christians from among the barrage of refugees heading for Europe. Big international media outlets did not notice the Slovak plan until several weeks after Bratislava began speaking of it in June.
The debate of the Slovak plan was apparently begun by The Wall Street Journal, which wrote this week that Slovakia is willing to receive 200 Syrian refugees, but only on condition that they be Christians because there are no mosques on Slovak territory and Muslims would not feel at home there, according to a spokesperson for the Slovak Interior Ministry. "This is an example of the degree to which the refugee crisis threatens the ideals of Western European multiculturalism and is prompting a debate in the European Union about integration and the sharing of problems and values," the American newspaper wrote.
"Rejecting refugees on the basis of their religion is pure discrimination," said Norwegian politician Thorbjörn Jagland, who is leading the Council of Europe. "Slovakia should change its position."
The Associated Press reports that together with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, Slovakia blocked a plan in the European Union to redistribute refugees now in Greece and Italy among all of the EU Member States according to a quota system. "We want to choose people who actually want to begin a new life in Slovakia, which as a Christian country can really aid Christians from Syria with finding new homes in Slovakia," Slovak Interior Ministry spokesperson Ivan Netík said to Reuters when asked about the country's plan to privilege Christian refugees, hundreds of whom are now in refugee camps in Italy and Turkey.
"We are not discriminating against any religion, but it would be a false, insincere solidarity to receive people who do not even want to live in Slovakia," added Netík, who went on to say that he believes Slovakia is just a transit country for most refugees, that the Muslim community there is tiny, and that there are not even any mosques there. The Reuters report goes on to note that 200 refugees is negligible compared to the 60 000 refugees the European Commission is attempting to redistribute among the Member States.
The refugees' main destination, Germany, is anticipating that the number of asylum-seekers and refugees there will quadruple this year to a record 800 000. "We are all acting according to the letter and spirit of the treaty (on the EU), which prohibits any kind of discrimination," European Commission spokesperson Annika Breidthardt answered when asked about Slovakia's position.
Czech President Zeman wants to make his own choices, too
"Slovakia is not alone in privileging Christians. Czech President Miloš Zeman, who has long militated against the threat of Islamists and called on the United Nations to attack their bases, also said he would prefer the country receive Christian refugees," Reuters reports.
The article goes on to note that only 109 people have requested asylum in Slovakia this year so far. Despite that fact, several thousand people demonstrated against immigrants in the capital, Bratislava, in June and police arrested 100 after a mob set police vehicles on fire and assaulted passers-by.
In the town of Gabčíkov, Slovakia, a plan to temporarily accommodate 500 asylum-seekers now in Austria also sparked protests recently. Agence France-Presse reports that the reception of the 200 Syrian Christians by Slovakia would take place over two years, according to Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák - 50 next year and the rest in 2017.
Allegedly, only Christians "have enormous opportunities to transparently integrate into our society", according to Michaela Paulenová, the Interior Ministry spokesperson who also said there were few Muslims and no mosques in Slovakia. "We have nothing against their religion and this is not discrimination. This is Slovakia's effort to see their integration succeed," she said.
According to a spokesperson for the UNHCR, however, an all-encompassing approach is the appropriate one. "We require of states that they not perpetrate any discrimination," Babar Baloch of the UNHCR said.
Agence France-Presse also notes the "alarming statistics" about the constant barrage of hundreds of thousands of refugees into the EU and that ever since Slovakia separated from the Czech Republic in 1993, it has awarded asylum to a total of just 650 persons. Polls say about 70 % of the population there is against receiving refugees, a sentiment broadly shared in most of the EU-28.
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