Czechs say Italy and Greece failed to allow them to carry out full background checks on refugees

Photo: CAFOD, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Czech minister of the interior Milan Chovanec has said the country will defend itself against Brusselsʾ criticism that it has failed to live up to its promises to take in immigrants currently in Italy and Greece. Chovanec says that Czechs simply were not allowed by officials in those countries to carry out the detailed background checks on refugees.

Photo: CAFOD,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Czech Republic, together with Poland and Hungary, were given a month on June 14 by the European Commission to respond to what amounted to a last warning over their perceived failure to live up to their commitments to take in immigrants from Greece and Italy.

In the warning, the European Commission charged the Czech Republic with not relocating any refugees since August 2016 and failing to make any new offers to do so for over a year. Hungary and Poland had not taken any refugees at all. And Brussels challenged the trio to take immediate action to live up to their past commitments or else.

The sense that the Commission had run out of patience was partly conveyed by the fact that the Central European states were given just one month, and not the normal two, to come up with their replies aimed at stalling possible further action from Brussels.

On deadline day, Thursday, minister Chovanec said in an interview with public service broadcaster Czech Radio that had sent a detailed reply to the Commission and would firmly refute its charge that they had reneged on the 2015 pledges to help share out 120,000 immigrants on top of an already agreed redistribution of 40,000. The Czech minister said local conditions meant they simply weren’t able to vet potential relocation applicants in the way they deemed necessary.

"We will simply set out step by step, date by date, letter by letter, that for both the Greeks and Italians we were not able to carry out the very detailed background investigation checks on the people that were offered to us. The Italians, for example, eventually did not communicate with us. It will show that the whole situation was not as it should have been. I would repeat that we did not break any rules. We have been one of the most active countries as regards policing of EU borders, of the Schengen borders, and offering financial help. And these are the sorts of things that work."

Milan Chovanec,  photo: Martin Svozílek
The minister added that Italian and Greek authorities permitted only the most basic questions to be posed to refugees earmarked for relocation.

"Due to the Italians and Greeks, the only check we could do on these people was ask them the question whether they were terrorists. With that sort of security check on people in place, we simply could not accept them into the Czech Republic."

Under the EU share out, the Czechs were supposed to take in 1,500 refugees on top an earlier 1,100. At the moment there are just 12 immigrants in Czech facilities.

The European Commission will now weigh up the Czech and other responses. If it fails to be convinced, it can proceed to the next stage of the process, a reasoned opinion and that could be followed up by a final step to take the country before the European Court of Justice.