Nearly two-thirds of Czechs oppose taking in war refugees: poll

PRAGUE (Reuters) - About two out of three Czechs oppose taking in refugees from war zones, according to an opinion poll published on Monday, reflecting growing anti-migrant sentiment in a country that has taken a tough stance on migrants and refugees.

Demonstrators hold flags as they attend an anti-immigrants rally in front of the Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, February 6, 2016. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Central European nations have opposed quotas for sharing asylum-seekers among European Union members, and Czech President Milos Zeman is one of many leaders to have used anti-migrant rhetoric.

The latest monthly survey by the Czech Public Opinion Research Center found 65 percent of Czechs were against taking in war refugees, up from 50 percent in September.

Another 28 percent said refugees should only be accepted until they can return home.

More than 1 million refugees and migrants crossed into Europe last year, most of them fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Zeman has limited policymaking power but has said integration of Muslim communities in the country of 10.5 million is “practically impossible” and called the influx an “organized invasion”.

He has also said that migrants would impose sharia law, stoning women to death for adultery and chopping thieves’ hands off. His comments have drawn criticism from the government as well as the U.N. human rights chief.

The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland meet in Prague on Monday to discuss the crisis before an European Union leaders’ summit at the end of the week.

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Sunday the countries - known collectively as the Visegrad group - were ready to help Balkan countries seal their borders with Greece to stem the flow, raising objections from Germany.

The leaders of Bulgaria and Macedonia will also attend the Prague meeting. Sobotka said he would discuss the plans with the Greek foreign minister on Tuesday.

Except for Hungary, central European countries have so far not seen significant numbers of migrants, but they fear that could change if Europe’s external borders stay porous, or if Germany - the main destination - were to close its own borders.

Germany believes sealing Balkan borders with Greece could undermine its approach, which focuses on making an agreement with Turkey to control the migrant flow work and would lead to an accumulation of refugees in Greece, a country already under huge strain.

Reporting by Jason Hovet, editing by Tom Miles