World News

Czechs to take 153 Christian refugees from Iraq

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic will accept 153 Christian refugees from Iraq who have fled areas controlled by Islamic State, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Monday.

Czech President Milos Zeman, who has long stressed the threat from Islamist militants, said in July he would prefer Christian immigrants as a wave of people, mostly Muslim, moved across southeast Europe northwards.

Leaders in neighbouring Slovakia made similar comments.

“They are people from the Christian minority in Iraq who had to flee from the Islamic State in the Mosul area, where they had lived for generations,” Sobotka told reporters after a regular government session on Monday.

The 37 Christian families will come to the EU member country from Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq and refugee camps in Lebanon, in four groups from January to April, Sobotka said.

Prague has refused to accept European Union quotas for distributing migrants. Polls show a majority of Czechs would reject even those fleeing a war zone.

The country of 10.5 million had recorded 1,245 asylum applications this year by the end of October, and had granted protection to 52 people, data from the Ministry of Interior shows.

Several thousand people, mostly Muslims, have passed through the Czech territory this year in the mass wave of migration via southeast Europe.

Many have been held in prison-like facilities with poor hygiene and nutrition, prompting strong criticism from the United Nations and other bodies.

About a million migrants are expected in the European Union this year, mostly coming by sea via Greece or Italy and heading towards Germany.

Berlin and Paris have called for central control over the external borders of the EU’s open-border Schengen zone and, emergency powers to send in European forces uninvited to a country to defend them.

Last week, 149 Christians from Iraq arrived in Slovakia. Their planned accommodation with local volunteer families had to be abandoned after public protests. Prime Minister Robert Fico said they would instead go to a refugee camp for the next six months.

Reporting by Robert Muller; additional reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova in Bratislava; editing by Andrew Roche