Czech government under public pressure to accept Syrian refugees

Photo: DFID - UK, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Czech government has found itself under increased pressure over its recent refusal to accept refugees from Syria. A number of NGOs, churches and other groups have asked the cabinet to reverse its decision, and at least provide treatment to a group of wounded and ill Syrian children.

Photo: CTK
Hundreds of people gathered in Prague and Brno on Thursday afternoon to protest against the Czech government’s refusal to accept refugees from war-torn Syria. The protesters called on government officials to allow a group of 15 sick Syrian children and their families to get medical treatment in the Czech Republic.

The idea was rejected earlier this week by Interior Minister Milan Chovanec. Lenka Šafránková Pavlíčková from the NGO Nesehnutí organized the rally in Brno.

“The point is that there is one of the biggest refugee crises since WWII, and we believe the EU needs to accept refugees and help solve the crisis.

“As part of the EU, the Czech Republic has one of the lowest numbers of asylum seekers of all the member states. So we think we need to share this burden and accept a certain number of refugees.”

Photo: DFID - UK, CC BY-SA 2.0
The number of Syrians who have fled their country due to ongoing conflict has exceeded three million, according to UN figures. Some EU member states, mainly Germany and Sweden, have already taken in around 150,000 refugees, while some Western countries have vowed to provide asylum to another 100,000 Syrians over the next two years.

The Czech government has, however, argued that accepting any large numbers of Syrian refugees could pose a considerable security risk. Last week, Interior Minister Chovanec told his counterparts from other EU countries that the Czech Republic was not ready to share the burden. Then on Tuesday, the ministry said that family members of the 15 sick Syrian children might include persons hostile to the Czech Republic, and it put the programme on hold.

This has led to a new round of appeals and protests by major church groups, NGOs, and a number of public figures, who have asked the government to reconsider its position.

On Friday, the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, sent a strongly worded open letter to the prime minister and the interior minister, criticizing their positions as cowardly. Joel Ruml is the head of the church’s governing body.

Joel Ruml, photo: archive of Radio Prague
“When we lived under a totalitarian regime, we were very glad that neighbouring countries accepted hundreds of thousands of Czechs. And now, when we are a free and rich society and we have a number of suitable facilities, we don’t even make such a move?”

In response, the Interior Ministry said the government was considering taking in a small group of refugees, plan to be detailed next month. The NGOs and churches have meanwhile pledged to continue putting pressure on the government to accept, as they see it, its share of responsibility for the refugees.