Czech Republic looks to older EU members for cues on immigration


The Czech Republic has a tiny Muslim population, but it has also seen a sharp rise in anti-Islamic sentiment in recent months. That has prompted the government to look at the experience of immigration of older EU member states, EURACTIV Czech Republic reports.

In Central Europe the debate about immigration and the integration of minorities, especially of Muslim communities, into society is still in its infancy.

In the Czech Republic, only 4.1 % of the country’s ten million people are foreigners and just 0.1 % are Muslim.  Despite that, in recent months there have been demonstrations against Muslim immigrants for the first time.

Tomio Okamura is the leader of Dawn of Direct Democracy, a populist party with strong anti-immigration views. He has delivered inflammatory speeches and advised Czechs to walk pigs near mosques to defend their country from Islam. Okamura is a Czech entrepreneur, writer and politician, of Moravian, Japanese and Korean descent.

The demonstrations echo similar protests in Western Europe, especially Germany’s Pegida movement.

Things are slowly changing

“The situation with migrants has a huge European dimension and we should not close our eyes to that, since we are a member of the Schengen area,” Ond?ej Benešík, chairman of the Committee on European Affairs of the Chamber of Deputies in the Czech Parliament told

Politicians have started to realise they cannot ignore the situation. The Czech government s working on a new asylum and migration strategy which is scheduled for publication by spring. Migration is also going to be the main priority of a newly established sub-committee in the Chamber of Deputies.

“We should actively cooperate with everyone who is involved,” Helena Langšádlová, who became a subcommittee chairman last week, told EURACTIV in an interview.

Do not repeat the same mistakes

The immigration debate has gained momentum in Europe after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

>> Read: In Belgium and France, marginalised Muslims fight in Syria ‘out of despair’

“The biggest challenge is to avoid relegating the poor immigrant population to ghetto-like suburbs, leaving part of the population on the fringe of the national society,” said Sylvie Guilluame (S&D), a French Member of the European Parliament. “Inclusion is the key answer to this issue,” she added.

This means investing in the fight against unemployment, working on a better access to education, housing and health care, she said.

“We should learn the lessons of Western European countries which did not handle the integration of migrants very well. If we repeat their mistakes, the same fate waits for us,” Tomáš Zdechovský, a member of the European Parliament (EPP), told EURACTIV.

Migrants ‘with Christian roots’ preferred

Czech politicians say they want to keep borders open while avoiding integration problems in the future. But most are convinced that EU countries should only accept migrants who share a similar cultural background – and preferably Christian roots.

“If we want to be open and supportive of migration, we should preferably focus on migrants that are close to our culture and share the same values,” Benešík said.

“If the migrant has a Christian roots the situation is much easier,” MEP Zdechovský said. In such cases the country could use the churches to help with the integration of minorities, he told

“Many refugees from different cultural backgrounds, who get permanent residence in the EU, could cause problems for society in the future, even in second or third generation. They could divide the society as we can see in France or Germany,” MEP Jan Zahradil  of the opposition Civic Democratic Society told in an interview.

In Zahradil’s view, the Czech Republic should provide logistical help to countries bordering Syria that are struggling to cope with large numbers of refugees.

For weeks now, the “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident” or Pegida has demonstrated against the supposed “foreign infiltration” of German society by  Islam.

The movement also campaigns against asylum applicants, against Germany’s and Europe’s Russia-policy and the media.

The largest Pegida demonstration included 18,000 participants and took place at the end of December in Dresden.

Organisers and supporters of the Pegida movement consider themselves a “citizen’s movement” and publicly distance themselves from right-wing extremists. They rely on the “Christian idea of man” but church leaders accuse them of “racism veiled by religion”.


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