Immigration recriminations open up as special parliamentary session convened

Migrants at the French-Italian border near Menton, France, June 14, 2015, photo: CTK

While the Czech Republic has not been in the forefront of the immigrant crisis facing Europe, fears and political controversy have flared up. Rifts have emerged within the government coalition and some opposition parties accuse the Ministry of Interior of keeping them in the dark and not taking the proper steps to discuss or deal with the issue. The differences should be fully aired in a special session of the lower house of parliament on Thursday evening.

Migrants at the French-Italian border near Menton,  France,  June 14,  2015,  photo: CTK
The Czech Republic is not a front line country for the wave of immigrants coming into Europe, mainly from the south but also from the east. But there is little doubt that pressure to deal with the problem and agree on solutions is mounting and that the differences between Czech political parties on what the national stance should be are becoming ever more apparent.

Anger at the government’s stand and the impression that they have been shut out of discussions prompted three centre-right parties to come together Tuesday and demand a special session of parliament to debate the immigration crisis. Their demand will be granted on Thursday evening.

Leading Dawn Party member of parliament Marek Černoch described why he wanted answers from the government: “According to the information that we have, in the following days and weeks a much bigger wave of immigrants should come to the Czech Republic. Through this extraordinary session of parliament, we are seeking answers from the responsible people, like the minister of interior and prime minister, how the situation is evolving and in what way the government is prepared to tackle the situation with immigrants and how they are prepared to tackle the security situation which must get worse with their arrival in the Czech Republic.”

Marek Černoch,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Černoch has elsewhere suggested that border controls be reinstated, at least on a temporary basis, a move which other centre-right parties have disagreed with.

The coalition government has pretty much played a straight bat on the immigration issue, opposing the imposition of mandatory European quotas for immigrants and offering support to countries in the front line, such as Greece and Italy.

But some cracks have appeared there in recent days. Leader of the smallest government party, the Christian Democrats, Pavel Bělobrádek, has said he believes that the Czech Republic could take in around 1,000 immigrants a year. That is far more than the original EU Commission proposal of 500 refugees over two years but less that the 1,300 existing Syrian and Eritreans already in the EU that Brussels would also like the Czech Republic to take. In a newspaper interview on Thursday, Bělobrádek also pointed out that Czech aid offered to Italy to help with the immigrants who have landed there had been rejected by Rome.

Meanwhile, there are clear signs that the refugee crisis is having an impact in the Czech Republic. Interior minister Milan Chovanec met with the head of the national police force on Wednesday to work out how they could keep better tabs on the increasing flow of illegal immigrants through the country. The police president said special measures are already taken in regions bordering Austria, through which immigrants often cross on their way to Germany and other countries in northern Europe.

Pavel Bělobrádek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
And while the Czech Republic is still largely a transit country for refugees, the number of asylum applications has soared. They totaled 679 in the first five months of this year compared with just under 400 in the same period in 2014. Around half of the asylum demands this year come from Ukraine. The numbers from Syria and other countries that have contributed to the Mediterranean crisis are still comparatively small.