BRATISLAVA/PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovakia and the Czech Republic hope to forge a common position with Hungary and Poland on Europe’s migrant crisis that would reject any EU quotas for redistributing the immigrants, the two countries’ leaders said on Monday.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has invited
his counterparts in the so-called Visegrad 4 group to discuss the crisis in Prague on Friday, a spokesman said.
The outcome is likely to be a hardline stance on the issue that the EU’s central European states will take to an extraordinary meeting of EU interior ministers on Sept. 14.
Hungary’s status as an eastern outpost of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area has made it a transit route for tens of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and beyond heading for western Europe via the Balkans. Hungary has responded by erecting a fence along its border with Serbia.
The central Europeans have blocked proposals from Brussels that envisage EU member states accepting binding quotas to share out asylum-seekers crossing the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece. Since then, voluntary offers by member states to take in immigrants have fallen short of the needed numbers.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has called their stance “scandalous”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the future of Schengen would be in question if Europe cannot agree on redistributing refugees.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said binding quotas would not happen.
“We strongly reject any quotas ... If a mechanism for automatic redistribution of migrants is adopted, then we will wake up one day and have 100,000 people from the Arab world and that is a problem I would not like Slovakia to have,” Fico told a news conference shown live on television.
“We are prepared to do what is needed and what is within our possibilities, for people who really need help, separate them from economic migrants,” he added.
Czech President Milos Zeman said the country should reject quotas and increase its border protection, given the EU was unable to do so.
“The Czech Republic should take care of its borders on its own, it should expel illegal migrants ... even using the army, should it be needed,” Zeman said.
Fico said Europe should focus on tackling the causes of the crisis and criticised Western support for opposition groups in Syria and Libya, saying that had helped fuel the civil wars there and thus the flight of so many people.
Most of the migrants arriving in Hungary aim to move on to wealthier countries further west such as Germany, which is expecting an influx of some 800,000 people this year alone.
Austria, another favourite destination, tightened border controls on Monday, days after discovering a truck with the remains of 71 people thought to be Syrian refugees.
Slovakia, which lies north of the main ‘Balkan route’ for migrants passing through Hungary, has seen only a fraction of the numbers flowing through Hungary and received only 109 requests for asylum since January.
Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Gareth Jones and Robin Pomeroy