Czech Republic ready to accept refugees on a voluntary basis, says prime minister

Photo: CTK

The Czech Republic is one of a number of EU member states staunchly refusing European quotas on the acceptance of illegal migrants. Ahead of a meeting of EU leaders, the country’s prime minister made clear the country is ready to accept refugees but only voluntarily. Meanwhile, the country’s Interior Ministry is looking into scenarios whereby stricter border controls could be reintroduced.

Photo: CTK
Increased police checks suggest that the number of illegal migrants from Africa, the Middle East or Asia (entering the Czech Republic largely through neighbouring Austria) has gone up. According to the latest police figures, the numbers have tripled, with the country’s police detaining some 96 illegal migrants over the last seven days, many of them from Afghanistan and Syria.

Although the Czech Republic is seen largely as a transit country for refugees seeking better lives in Europe, there are fears the country could be swamped as more and more refugees enter Europe through Italy and Greece. To that end, according to daily Mladá fronta Dnes as well as Czech TV, the Interior Ministry is preparing a number of scenarios, including reintroducing controls not just at major border crossings but minor ones as well. In the worst-case scenario, the monitoring of the country’s entire border could be reinstated.

Photo: CTK
The last step is considered problematic and probably the least likely: not only would such a move be costly it would, above all, contravene the principles of Europe’s Schengen Area which allows the free movement of goods, information, people and money. At the very least, such a move would require negotiations with EU partners, sources point out. Under existing agreements, it is also understood such measures could only be short-term, for a period of one month. Interior Minister Milan Chovanec has made clear that the government is not considering introducing such steps for the time being and instead will push for the continuation of increased random checks. If conditions worsen, however, all bets could be off.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic remains firmly in the camp of EU states opposed to EC-recommended quotas for refugees. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told Czech Radio’s flagship programme Radiožurnál why:

“In the past we always accepted refuges on a voluntary basis, based on Schengen rules and our own legislation and we want things to stay that way. We want our government to be the one to decide on who we accept and when, as well as to weigh all the security and social risks. We don’t want an automatic system introduced at the European level, to decide about us without us.”

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
The prime minister suggested the government would not budge on the issue but would maintain a joint position within the Visegrad 4 which also comprises Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.

“We plan to make a joint statement with the other Visegrad 4 countries… we plan to jointly reject the quotas at the European Council… At the same time [our country is] ready to provide financial help and expertise to countries under the greatest influx and we are ready to accept some refugees on the basis of choice, available capacity and security vetting.”