BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - The Czech Republic and Slovakia stuck to their rejection of quotas for redistributing asylum-seekers flooding Europe on Monday after the EU executive proposed moving thousands of migrants to the central European countries.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said after meeting their Austrian counterpart that any help and cooperation must be on a voluntary basis.
The issue of quotas has overshadowed other planned actions to deal with the immigration wave and put central Europeans on a collision course with richer west European countries bearing the brunt of the migration crisis hat has brought hundreds of thousands running away from wars or poverty to the EU this year.
The EU executive has drawn up a new set of national quotas under which 160,000 asylum-seekers should be relocated from Italy, Greece and Hungary, an EU source said earlier on Monday.
The plan would send 4,306 migrants from Italy, Greece and Hungary to the Czech Republic and 2,287 to Slovakia.
That is far more than the 1,500 offered previously by the Czechs and 200, preferably Christians, by Slovaks. Those offers referred to asylum-seekers from other EU states as well as refugee camps in Turkey.
Fico refused to comment on the EU plan but said quotas were not acceptable.
“Migrants arriving in Europe do not want to stay in Slovakia. They don’t have a base for their religion here, their relatives, they would run away anyway. Therefore I think the quotas are irrational,” he said.
The Czechs and Slovaks said the EU must agree on other actions to stem the flow of migrants, such as beefing up external border protection, creating “hotspot” reception centers, and releasing a list of safe countries whose nationals would be turned away.
“We want to help...financially, by (providing) experts, and of course we will take care of some of the refugees who get asylum, but solely and exclusively on a voluntary basis,” Sobotka said.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said the quota system was needed to have a formula for letting genuine refugees, rather than economic migrants in.
“I am firmly convinced that you can secure the outer border only when you know what to do with the refugees from war,” he said.
Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Michael Kahn and Philippa Fletcher