Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has come under fire for outright rejecting a proposal to take in 50 Syrian orphans – or even a single refugee until the EU secures its borders. In an interview published on Saturday, he said the Czech Republic had demonstrated its solidarity in other, meaningful ways and has its own orphans to worry about.
Mr Babiš has long maintained he will not accept a single “economic migrant” while arguing refugees – in his words, “people in real need, fleeing conflict or persecution” – should find asylum closer to home, outside the European Union, and not be allowed to engage in “asylum shopping” in the EU.
That line in the sand, based on legal grounds, has generally met with support from Czech politicians, as has rejecting mandatory EU quotas for resettling refugees. But Mr Babiš’s outright refusal now to take in a single refugee – even orphans from war-torn Syria – has been widely condemned.
“Why should we accept them? We also have orphans in the Czech Republic who we must be preparing for life,” Mr Babiš said in the interview. “I went into politics mainly to look after Czech citizens. Why should we be caring for Syrian orphans?”
While he also highlighted the financial and material aid the country has given to Syria, several politicians from opposition parties characterised his comments as “shameful” or “inhumane”. For his part, acting foreign minister Jan Hamáček of the Social Democrats, the junior partner in Mr Babiš’s coalition government, tweeted that surely this country of 10 million could manage to find homes for 50 orphans.
Pavel Telička, an independent MEP elected on the Ano party ticket of Mr Babiš says the prime minister’s “extreme” shift in position would leave him isolated at home.
“He has evidently moved from what was a quite reasonable, carefully considered position – rejecting EU quotas and combatting illegal migration – to one where he is saying this country will not even consider a request to grant asylum or temporary protection to people from war-torn Syria. He will not even consider discussing it. Such an extreme position, I think, will make the prime minister himself something of an ‘orphan’ on the Czech political scene.”
Following the outcry, Mr Babiš sought to justify his position in part by noting the Syrian orphans were teenage boys, not helpless toddlers. In a tweet on Sunday, he also quoted the Dalai Lama as saying in a recent speech that refugees should be “helped and educated” but ultimately return home to develop their own counties. But he edited out the Tibetan spiritual leader’s call to first “receive” refugees and his assertion Europe was “morally” obliged to aid refugees whose lives could be in danger.
According to the United Nations, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled their country since the civil war began in March 2011.