By Robert Muller
PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech President Milos Zeman believes his country should refuse to take in refugees to ensure they cannot commit “barbaric attacks”, his spokesman said on Tuesday.
Zeman, whose role is largely ceremonial, is the country’s most vocal opponent of immigration, opposing even the government’s modest plan to take in 80 Syrian refugees this year, a tiny proportion of the millions fleeing civil war.
Zeman’s spokesman told a regular news conference that Islamist attacks in France and Germany in recent weeks proved his point.
“Our country simply cannot afford to risk terrorist attacks like those that occurred in France and Germany. By accepting migrants, we would create fertile ground for barbaric attacks,” Jiri Ovcacek said.
“The president does not agree with any acceptance of migrants in the Czech territory.”
The Czechs and other central Europeans have been the most critical of the European Union’s response to the migration crisis, in which over a million people entered the bloc last year.
The government opposes an EU quota system to redistribute asylum seekers but has not followed Slovakia and Hungary in challenging it in the courts. Hungary is holding a referendum on Oct. 2 to ask its citizens whether they accept the EU system.
It is not clear how Brussels will be able to force those countries to take in refugees against their will.
Germany’s European commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, blasted Zeman’s comments.
“The refugee quotas were agreed by a large majority and are now European law,” Oettinger, commissioner for digital economy and society, told the German broadcaster ffn. “A president who so defames European legislation weakens Europe as a whole.”
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s government has agreed to taking in 80 Syrian refugees from a Turkish camp.
Sobotka has said it is not possible to have uncontrolled migration, but that using “collective guilt and saying every Muslim is a terrorist” is not the way to proceed.
He was unavailable to comment on Tuesday.
A CVVM institute poll in May found 61 percent of Czechs were against taking in war refugees, up from 52 percent in October. Another 34 percent said refugees should be allowed to stay only until it was safe for them to return home.
(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Editing by Kevin Liffey)