Friday, 20 April 2018

LN: Czech rejection of migrant quotas unfounded, needs change

ČTK |
29 December 2017

Prague, Dec 28 (CTK) - The arguments the Czechs and the rest of the Visegrad Four (V4) group use to reject the EU's migrant quotas are unfounded and Prague should try to accept some refugees from Greece or Italy to see whether such a step may be a success, Tomas Vlach writes in Lidove noviny (LN) on Thursday.

When the plan of compulsory migrant relocation quotas started to be discussed in early 2015, no one expected the issue to escalate and turn into a problem dividing the EU. This eventually did happen, unfortunately, but not due to Brussels' dictate but due to a stubborn rejection of the quotas by the V4, a group comprised of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, Vlach, a Czech Radio reporter, writes.

While the EU worries about the V4's unwillingness to accept refugees from camps in Italy and Greece, the V4 offers to protect the border of Libya (where no military contingent has been deployed so far) and donate almost one billion crowns in support of the development of Africa, Vlach writes.

In this respect, the policy of the new Czech cabinet of Andrej Babis (ANO) does not differ from that of the previous cabinet of Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD), he writes.

Disagreement with the quotas has been Prague's strategy since the beginning, probably due to the Czech population's rising resentment of migration, Vlach writes, citing a December CVVM poll, according to which 80 percent of Czechs are opposed to migrant redistribution.

The official argument of Prague and other V4 governments is that the quota system is ineffective.

"We believe this simply cannot work...Relocated to different countries, the refugees do not stay there, they move around the EU," former Czech PM Sobotka said in April, and a similar opinion is espoused by most parties in Czech parliament, Vlach writes.

Nevertheless, it is not sure at all what their continuously repeated view of "definitely ineffective quotas" is actually based on, he writes.

Does any of the V4 states have such an experience?

Has it really happened in the V4 that a large number of refugees, after being relocated based on the quotas, made their getaway from the host state and fled to Germany or started wandering around Europe?

Has any of the V4 countries tried migrant relocation and integration as a pilot project at least? Vlach asks.

The Czechs have tried it, but the results have not been spoken of. Before definitively refusing to accept refugees this spring, Prague accepted 12 refugees from Greece.

"They are here and they do not tend to leave westwards, as far as we know. Some of them live in Prague, have jobs and fare well," an Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, Vlach writes.

Slovakia voluntarily accepted 16 refugees (plans to accept 60), with whom there have been no problems so far, Vlach writes.

Hungary, too, has accepted migrants coming from the southeast, while Poland has granted refuge to Chechens fleeing from Russia. There is no information about any problems the asylum system would face in this connection, Vlach writes.

True, there was an unsuccessful attempt to settle 153 Christians from northern Iraq in the Czech Republic. Out of the 89 accepted Iraqis, 25 left for Germany and another eight returned to Iraq, after which the interior minister scrapped the resettlement project in 2016, Vlach writes.

However, in that case, the resettled community was different from the refugees in Greek and Italian camps. In northern Iraq, the living standard is often higher than in the Czech Republic. Local Christians are quite well-off there, and their expectations were higher than what the Czech Republic could offer. It is not ruled out that they had agreed beforehand to leave the Czech Republic for Germany, Vlach writes.

"I visited refugee camps in Bavaria, I repeatedly spoke to representatives of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in Malta, but migrants' interest in the Czech Republic is absolutely negligible," Czech Christian Democrat MP Ondrej Benesik told Czech Radio recently.

This argument has been used quite often, Vlach writes, adding that he, too, heard similar words from inhabitants of the now defunct Idomeni camp in Greece and from refugees on the Serbian-Croatian border.

However, this was at the time of the relatively open or freshly closed borders, before the spring of 2016. At present, the opinion of the refugees who have been blocked in camps for almost two years is far less optimistic. A large part of them would accept any solution as a way out of their current situation, Vlach writes.

It would be enough for Prague to launch a pilot project of resettling 200 migrants from Greece or Italy. Both sides would be surprised. The migrants would see that the Czech asylum system is quite friendly and that life is not unpleasant in the country. The EC would probably withdraw the lawsuit it is going to file with the European Court of Justice over Prague's [and also Budapest and Warsaw's] failure to observe the quotas, Vlach says.

If the refugees, once resettled, really left the Czech Republic for Germany, Prague would have an unshakable argument for rejecting migrant quotas, he writes.

If the resettlement proved effective, the Czechs might continue accepting refugees, he says.

People's fear of terrorism could be eliminated by thorough checks of the accepted persons and by the acceptance of migrants from various countries and cultures. The Czech society would finally see that Muslim immigrants are no aggressive killers and that normal coexistence with them is possible, Vlach writes.

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