Slovakia and its shameful policy on refugees

SLOVAKIA, a small country of 5 million has been almost untouched by the recent refugee situation in the Mediterranean and the Balkans. 

Illustrative stock photoIllustrative stock photo (Source: AP/TASR)

This is mostly due to its geographical position as our one external border (also a Schengen border) is with Ukraine only, and is just 98km long. Over recent years, we have not seen more than a few hundred asylum seekers coming (331 in 2014, 441 in 2013) and a handful of them have been granted asylum (14 in 2014 and 15 in 2013) as the country prefers to grant subsidiary protection to those in need.

Not even the Ukraine crisis has caused a large arrival of Ukrainian asylum seekers to come to the country (14 asylum seekers from Ukraine were registered until the end of June 2015, 12 were granted subsidiary protection). Maybe, they have heard that our interior minister had “small talk” with the first four Ukrainian asylum seekers coming to Slovakia in spring 2014 shortly after the war started, after which they decided to return home.

The country’s half-empty reception centre in Humenné and empty accommodation centres in Rohovce and Opatovská Nová Ves as well as other free available capacities in addition to help offered to the government by several NGOs, would lead some to think that Slovakia has the best position to offer hundreds and thousands of free places for asylum seekers and resettled refugees. Not to mention that the country has received several million euros from EU funds to develop its asylum, migration and integration policies.

However, none of this has happened. Instead of offering a warm welcome to refugees, Slovakia has become a leading power blocking EU mandatory quotas for relocation and resettlement of refugees. At the top, its leadership offered just a symbolic gesture – taking in 200 Syrian refugees under the condition that they are Christian. With the official explanation that Muslims will not like it here as we have no mosques, the policy of the country has crossed the border line between being “just tragicomical” to being simply shameful. 

In reality, it is the government and law which do not allow for recognition of Islam as an official religion as the legal conditions have become strict after some attempts to register non-Christian religions. The law now requires 20,000 signatures of citizens declaring to be supporters of that religion making it impossible for a tiny Muslim population in Slovakia to seek registration (estimates are 2,000 – 5,000 members). In the past, when an Islamic foundation in Slovakia bought land in the capital city where the majority of Slovak Muslims live, in an attempt to build a cultural centre, which would serve as an official place of worship, the local municipality refused to issue permission for its construction.

Moreover, current public discussion on refugees and the refugee crisis in local media has been much heated by xenophobic comments of almost every politician willing to enter parliament after the upcoming elections next year. Social media are overloaded with anti-Islamic and xenophobic hysteria of the public, although the majority of the population has hardly met any foreigner, refugee or Muslim in their entire life.

Surfing on the populism wave, political leadership is again taking out another popular mantra – Slovakia is a transit country only and refugees do not want to stay here. Of course, seeing detention centres full of people (asylum seekers) waiting to be returned to Hungary are one side of the picture.

The other side tells us about a country, which – a long time ago – has deliberately chosen to be “just transit”, refusing to take free money from EU funds aimed at establishment of resettlement and relocation programs. The country, which currently benefits from its geographical position and enforcement of the Dublin regulation (which provides for return of asylum seekers to Hungary as their first country of asylum/entry) filling its detention centres without the need to have asylum seekers that would actually stay. The country, which has received EU funds to develop almost every aspect of its daily life in the last decade. Unfortunately, morals, tolerance and values are obviously commodities which are not transferred in packages of EU money.

Zuzana Števulová is the director of Human Rights League, a non-governmental organisation based in Bratislava, Slovakia, focusing on immigration, asylum and integration policies of Slovakia

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