Slovakia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, has showcased the Gabčíkovo camp near Bratislava as an example that intergovernmental solutions can work better than the Commission’s relocation system based on mandatory quotas.
On Saturday (2 July) the Slovak presidency took a group of 58 Brussels journalists to Gabčíkovo, in the Trnava Region, on the border with Hungary, some 50 kilometres from Bratislava, to showcase a refugee camp run in cooperation with Austria.
The previous day, the Slovak Prime Minister, Robert Fico, and other officials had stated that Gabčíkovo was a proof that the country was unfairly criticised for not doing enough to share the burden of the refugee crisis the EU is faced with.
The camp is a former technical university, which was converted in 2015 into a refugee camp for a period of two years, under a bilateral deal with Austria. So far a total of 1,200 Syrian refugees, mostly families, have been settled in the camp. Before coming to Gabčíkovo, all of them applied for asylum in Austria, and agreed to await the decision on their application in Slovakia.
Slovakia is providing accommodation and food, while Austria has dispatched 22 social workers, who among other things, teach the refugees German.
Karl-Heinz Grundböck, spokesperson for the Federal Ministry of the Interior of Austria, expressed thanks to the Slovak government for the assistance, which has been particularly helpful when the Austrian asylum system collapsed last summer, with no accommodation available and asylum seekers sleeping on the grass in the Traiskirchen refugee camp near Vienna.
At present, only 14 refugees are living in the Gabčíkovo camp, but Austria would like the project to be maintained, because as Grundböck explained, the future remained uncertain.
The total capacity of the camp, of 500 refugees, was reached during the past winter. All asylum seekers accommodated so far have ultimately received asylum and none has fled.
Bernard Priecel, director of the migration office of the Ministry of Interior of Slovakia, explained that the refugees don’t want to remain in Slovakia, and if they are forcibly relocated there, would disappear “the next day”. He argued that instead of applying the relocation scheme, as decided upon by the Commission, other types of bilateral projects, such as Gabčíkovo, could be replicated across the EU.
Asked if the Gabčíkovo camp has ever been visited by the Commission, Priecel said no. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the facility in October 2015.