PRAGUE The Czech Republic should not accept any refugees, Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Wednesday, rejecting the European Union's quotas and threatening legal action if sanctions are imposed.
Babis, a billionaire, is also the finance minister and leads political party ANO, currently the country's most popular.
"After what has been happening in Europe, I say clearly that I don't want even a single refugee in the Czech Republic, not even temporarily," Babis said in an op-ed article for www.expres.cz on Tuesday.
The Czechs and other central European countries have been highly critical of the European Union's response to the migrant crisis, which saw more than a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond enter the bloc last year.
The Prague government opposes an EU quota system to redistribute asylum seekers but has not followed Slovakia and Hungary in challenging it in the courts. Hungary will also hold a referendum on Oct. 2 to ask its citizens whether they accept the EU system.
The quotas were agreed by a majority of EU states but whether or how Brussels could force countries to take in refugees against their will is unclear.
Babis has said he opposes even a modest pledge by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka's government to accept 80 Syrian migrants, a tiny proportion of the millions fleeing the civil war there, from a Turkish camp.
His comments echo views expressed by Czech President Milos Zeman, who according to his spokesman believes the country should refuse to take in refugees so they cannot commit "barbaric attacks" like those in Germany and France recently..
Separately, Babis also said that the situation in Turkey has changed since the EU struck a deal with Ankara to reduce the influx of migrants to Europe from the Middle East.
"I won't respect the quotas. The situation has changed. There is a dictator in Turkey," Babis said on his Twitter account.
In his www.expres.cz article, Babis said sanctions could not be imposed over quotas he dismissed as "senseless and absurd".
"And even if they came, then the Czech Republic should fight the European Commission's decision and sue it over possible sanctions," he said, adding that the country should follow the example of Hungary and Slovakia on the refugee issue.
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.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Catherine Evans)