Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka accused Germany of touching off a wave of illegal immigration by opening its borders to refugees, in a newspaper interview Wednesday.
Sobotka told Germany’s daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that countries like his were paying the price for Berlin’s decision in September and said Prague would continue to resist pressure to take in more asylum seekers.
“Germany sent a message that could be heard and seen in far reaches of the Middle East and North Africa,” he was quoted as saying. This move “encouraged illegal migration to Europe, that unfortunately cannot be denied,” he added.
“Germany gave top priority to the humanitarian aspects of the crisis, above questions of security.” Sobotka said the European Union’s 28 member states must retain the power to determine their own immigration policy.
“We reject pressure for a centrally organised migration policy that only strengthens the radicals and can harm the European idea,” he said.
Sobotka said a permanent EU-wide distribution programme for refugees, as backed by countries such as Germany and France, would be doomed to failure.
“The system wouldn’t work — it cannot be realised against the will and the wishes of refugees themselves” where they would choose to settle. Sobotka said nevertheless that Prague would stand by its pledge to accept refugees under an EU programme to place 160,000 asylum seekers throughout the bloc — a scheme rejected by Slovakia and Hungary.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided in the late summer to stop expelling Syrian refugees and in September agreed with Austria to let in tens of thousands of refugees who were stuck in Hungary, which rejected asylum requests.
The moves were followed by a surge in asylum seekers from Turkey to Greece and then up through the Balkans to Hungary, Austria, Germany and northern Europe. Germany expects around one million asylum seekers this year.
About 70 percent of Czech citizens oppose taking in asylum seekers to their country, polls indicate.