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Slovakia Rejects EU's Call For Mandatory Migrant Quotas


Let's turn now to the ongoing crisis in Europe with tens of thousands of migrants pouring in from Syria and other countries - or at least trying to. The European Commission is proposing that EU nation accept a quota of migrants for resettlement, and that plan is going nowhere. Slovakia is one EU member that has been outspoken in its concern about the migrants.

Its prime minister told Slovakia's Parliament this week the EU has, quote, "ceased to be a safe place because of fears that Islamic State militants could be among those migrants." For more on the reaction of this small Central European country with virtually no history of immigration, we reached Miroslav Lajcak. He is Slovakia's foreign minister and its deputy prime minister.

Welcome to the program.

MIROSLAV LAJCAK: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Let me just simply begin by why is your government among those who object to bringing in and allowing migrants to come into your country and live there, should they choose?

LAJCAK: Here, we understand the scale of this catastrophe - humanitarian tragedy. And we are very much in favor of finding a solution. What we are saying is that this is a crisis that has a political dimension, economic, social dimension, and we cannot solve it through administrative measures. And we also say that somehow that this discussion is very much focused on one issue only which are the quotas - compulsory quotas. But we say that quotas are just a small part of the solution.

What we need to deal with is how to protect the outside borders of the European Union, how to organize the hot spots where the asylum-seekers will be registering, how to implement readmission policy with regard to those who, well, are not qualified to get asylum. None of this is working. We do not have list of safe countries. It's not that we don't want to take them. But it would not be honest to say OK, send us 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 knowing that in two weeks' time, they will be all gone.

MONTAGNE: Well, let me ask you then if you're saying that anyone who asks for protection in Slovakia would be welcome, but that they're really not asking to stay in Slovakia. Why not make an effort to welcome some of this population in given that Slovakia's population is declining, as is Germany's, that these Syrians in particular could be a boom to the economy because they're young, educated and, frankly, many of them are middle-class? Why would not that be worth the effort?

LAJCAK: Because they simply don't - we see that they don't want - I mean, they - more than 150,000 have entered Hungary and they are all gone. I mean, there are not more than 3,000 people in Hungary. You know, that's the question. Our partners and friends in the European Union are telling us that it's not fair that 80 percent of migrants are basically settling down in five countries out of 28, and I agree. It's not fair. But these are the five wealthiest countries who provide the most generous benefits for asylum-seekers. How can you force them to stay in Slovakia? We would - if there is someone who would say that they want to come to Slovakia, I mean, we will warmly embrace them.

MONTAGNE: OK. So your objection is with the quota system that would force some of these migrants to stay in Slovakia, as you would say, even if they don't want to. But did I just hear you right? Are you saying that you would warmly welcome any migrants who really want to stay in Slovakia?

LAJCAK: Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely.

MONTAGNE: Have you any migrants there that have stayed on? Surely, in among these many thousands, somebody wants to stay in Slovakia.

LAJCAK: Out of four people who got asylum in Slovakia, three left - three out of four left Slovakia, even after they received asylum. So that's how it is. And it's not that we - I mean, we are nice people, believe me, and our hospitality's well-known. Yes, our status is not so multicultural as the Western European societies are. It will come. But it cannot come over tonight as a result of an arbitrary decision.

MONTAGNE: Miroslav Lajcak is the foreign minister and also the deputy prime minister of Slovakia. Thank you very much for joining us.

LAJCAK: You're most welcome. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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