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Slovakia to EU: We’ll Take Migrants — If They’re Christians

Slovakia has made clear that they don't want to bear Europe's migration burden. But now they're willing to accept some asylum-seekers, so long as they're not Muslim.

A group of migrants peer out from the carriage of a train bound for the Hungarian border at the main railway station in Belgrade on June 26, 2015. Four central European countries, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia on June 25 called on the European Union to let member states decide for themselves how many migrants they will accept, instead of setting quotas. The number of immigrants entering Hungary has risen from 2, 000 in 2012 to 54, 000 this year so far. Hungary, which has seen 60,000 migrants crossing its border this year, said it would build a four-metre (13-foot) fence on its southern border with Serbia through which most migrants come into the country.  AFP PHOTO / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A group of migrants peer out from the carriage of a train bound for the Hungarian border at the main railway station in Belgrade on June 26, 2015. Four central European countries, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia on June 25 called on the European Union to let member states decide for themselves how many migrants they will accept, instead of setting quotas. The number of immigrants entering Hungary has risen from 2, 000 in 2012 to 54, 000 this year so far. Hungary, which has seen 60,000 migrants crossing its border this year, said it would build a four-metre (13-foot) fence on its southern border with Serbia through which most migrants come into the country. AFP PHOTO / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

The European Union tried to present a unified front last month on the plight of incoming migrants, with member nations agreeing to resettle more than 32,000 asylum-seekers who have largely burdened Italy, Greece, and Germany. As it turns out, however, not all EU member states are as willing as others to take in migrants — especially if those migrants are Muslim.

Slovak Interior Ministry spokesman Ivan Netik now insists that Slovakia will only accept Christian arrivals to the Eastern European nation. And he warned this week that Muslims should not move to Slovakia because they will not easily integrate with the country’s majority Christian population.

Slovakia plans to accept 200 Syrian Christian migrants under the new EU plan. Most of the migrant influx is coming from predominantly Muslim countries in North Africa and the Mideast. According to the United Nations refugee office, at least 264,500 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year. In Greece alone, there are now 7.5 times more migrants than there were at this time last year.

“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?” he told the BBC.

Netik insisted it’s not that Slovakia is discriminatory. Instead, he said, Bratislava has the migrants’ best interests at heart. After all, what could top the overcrowded and underfunded holding centers and refugee camps — mostly in Italy and Greece — where migrants stay after completing life-risking treks across the Mediterranean?

“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,” he said.

Eastern and Central Europe have seen significantly fewer migrants arriving this year than countries in Western Europe that are considered more welcoming and tend to be final destinations for those escaping war, famine, and political strife around the world.

To reject Muslims in the context of this migration crisis is not just discriminatory. It also is unhelpful, considering the largest numbers of migrants are from Syria, a majority Sunni Muslim country. The vast majority of migrants have landed in Greece and Italy, seriously straining already cash-strapped domestic budgets and pushing Athens’s economic crisis to the edge.

Yet according to the Wall Street Journal, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico told an Austrian newspaper last week that Slovakia wasn’t responsible for the migrant crisis and didn’t want to bear its burden.

“Who bombed Libya?” Fico said. “Who created problems in North Africa? Slovakia? No.”

Photo credit: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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