BRATISLAVA – Slovakia has announced a ban on Muslim immigrants from Syrian refugees under a new EU scheme, saying it would only accept Christians.
“We want to really help Europe with this migration wave but… we are only a transit country and the people don’t want to stay in Slovakia,” Interior ministry spokesman Ivan Netik told the BBC on Wednesday, August 19.
“We could take 800 Muslims but we don’t have any mosques in Slovakia so how can Muslims be integrated if they are not going to like it here?”
According to Netik, the decision to reject Muslims was that they would not feel at home in the country which has no mosques.
Though the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) called on countries to take an “inclusive approach” to relocation, Netik denied the move was discriminatory and said it was intended to ensure community cohesion.
The newly admitted immigrants followed an EU-members agreement last month to take in 32,000 asylum seekers arriving in Italy and Greece over the next two years, fewer than the 40,000 target.
The scheme was made voluntary after some nations – including Slovakia – refused to accept set quotas.
The number of migrants at the EU’s borders has surged in recent months, reaching a record high of 107,500 in July.
Most are Syrians, Afghans, and sub-Saharan Africans, fleeing instability or poverty.
While EU Commission spokeswoman Annika Breithard did not comment directly on the Slovak statement, she stressed that EU states were banned from any form of discrimination.
On the other hand, Babar Baloch, Central Europe spokesman for the UNHCR, said: “Resettlement is greatly needed for many refugees who are at extreme risk among the world’s most vulnerable groups.
“We encourage governments to take an inclusive approach while considering refugees for resettlement and should not base their selection on discrimination,” he added.
In post 9/11 Europe, right-wing parties in several European countries have been playing the Muslim immigration card to make election gains.
In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party won 27 percent of votes in regional polls last year through an anti-Muslim campaign that included an internet game allowing players to shoot at virtual mosque minarets.
In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose popularity has plummeted over climbing unemployment and painful spending cuts, have worked hard to court the far-right supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen.
In the Netherlands, the right-wing party of anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders secured promises for a clampdown on immigration and a face-veil ban in exchange for supporting the formation of a new government.
Italy also saw the rise of anti-immigration Northern League, which is a vocal opponent to the construction of mosques in the southern European country.