Minister signals possibility of allowing refugees to cross Czech territory to Germany

Milan Chovanec, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic has promised to provide financial aid to Serbia to help it deal with a wave of refugees passing through the country on their way into Hungary and the EU. Speaking in Belgrade, the Czech interior minister also said he was considering a plan under which asylum seekers would be allowed to travel through Czech territory to Germany rather than being returned to Hungary.

Milan Chovanec,  photo: CTK
Serbia has been one of the countries most affected in recent months by Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.

The Balkan state lies on one of the main routes by which migrants are entering the European Union. Around 65,000 potential asylum seekers have crossed its borders into EU member Hungary since the start of the year and there are an estimated 8,000 on its territory at present.

On a visit to the Balkan state the Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, on Tuesday told his counterpart Aleksandar Vucic that Prague would provide Serbia with some CZK 10 million in aid to help it deal with the unprecedented situation.

Also in the Czech delegation making a two-day visit to Belgrade has been the country’s minister of the interior, Milan Chovanec.

“We are ready to co-operate. We are ready to help financially, technically and in terms of materials and experts – whatever is needed. We’re interested in the views of people who are on the ground. If they ask us for assistance that is acceptable to us, we will simply send it.”

Speaking to a reporter from daily Mladá fronta Dnes in Belgrade, Mr. Chovanec also discussed what would be a major change in Czech policy toward refugees.

Hours after Czech police detained a “record” 200 migrants in the border town of Břeclav, the minister said that Prague had been in discussions with officials from Germany after it opened its doors unconditionally to Syrian refugees; Berlin has thus suspended its adherence to the Dublin Regulation, under which asylum seekers must be returned to the state where they entered the EU.

Hungary-Serbia border,  photo: CTK
Mr. Chovanec said one option on the table was the creation of a railway corridor via which Syrians could legally travel straight through Czech territory on their way to Germany.

The minister said Berlin had not yet confirmed its position on this possibility but that Prague was looking into how such a “simplified procedure” could ease the Syrians’ situation.

Germany, which this year is expecting to process 800,000 or more asylum requests, is again pushing for a quota system under which EU members would take in set numbers of migrants. Mr. Chovanec said this remains unacceptable to the Czech government.

Prime Minister Sobotka is due to meet on Friday with his Hungarian, Polish and Slovak counterparts to discuss a common position toward pressure from Berlin and Brussels on the quotas issue.