19th Mar 2018

EU states favour Christian migrants from Middle East

  • Syrian refugees arrive in Germany (Photo:

EU member states with a Roman Catholic heritage are showing a preference for taking in Christian migrants, despite their obligations under EU law.

The Slovakian government was the latest to issue a statement.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Displaced people fleeing war on Hungarian-Serbian border (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Its interior ministry told EUobserver on Thursday (20 August) that it’s “not a discriminatory country” and that “if some Muslim people come to Slovakia and decide to stay in our country and ask for asylum, they will be [put] in [a] normal asylum process”.

But it added that, in practice, Muslims don’t want to live there and end up moving on to EU states with larger Muslim communities.

“In Slovakia, we have a really tiny community of Muslim people. We even don't have mosques. That's the reason we want to choose people who really want to start a new life in Slovakia. And Slovakia, as a Christian country, can really help Christians from Syria to find a new home in Slovakia”.

Its comment comes as EU institutions prepare to start relocating the first asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, as well as UN-registered refugees from camps in the Middle East, around Europe in September.

Slovakia has volunteered to take in 100 asylum seekers and 100 refugees, out of the total 60,000 which the EU aims to redistribute.

But it’s concerned that this is just the beginning.

Frontex, the EU border control agency, says 107,500 irregular migrants arrived in the EU last month, while Germany expects 800,000 asylum applications this year.

The European Commission also plans to propose a “permanent mechanism” for relocations in emergency situations by the end of the year, on top of its ad-hoc 60,000 scheme.

“If we don´t stop the migrant wave, how many people will European countries have to relocate when we have 200,000 migrants, or maybe 1 million or 2 million?”, the Slovak ministry said.

Political correctness

Cherry-picking migrants is against EU law.

Its Charter of Fundamental Rights contains explicit clauses on non-discrimination.

Its two asylum directives, from 2004 and 2013, which can trigger infringement proceedings for non-compliance, also say individuals who qualify for international protection on individual merit cannot be denied it.

But the EU relocation mechanism, the final details of which are to be decided by EU officials and member states’ experts in a “forum for resettlement and relocation” next month, leaves wiggle room for national preference.

In the draft format, EU officials will go to Greece and Italy to identify the people most in need of being moved. But, the commission says, “it is the independent justice tribunals of the host member state who take the decision (in accordance with UN, international, and EU law)” whether to accept them.

EUobserver also contacted ministries in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Poland, and the Baltic States, all of which have a strong Catholic or Protestant heritage.

None of them are willing to say quite what Slovakia is saying.

The Czech Republic (to take in 1,500 asylum seekers and refugees) said it “is strictly neutral, religion-wise”.

Poland (2,000 asylum seekers and refugees) said it “does not apply any preference in terms of the religion or race of asylum seekers”.

Political reality

But Ireland (120 refugees) did echo Slovakia.

A justice ministry spokesman noted that “language skills, family links, or cultural ties relate to the capacity of the people relocated to integrate into their new host country, which is something to be taken into account in the relocation process”.

A contact from one of the three Baltic States (725 asylum seekers and refugees in total) also noted the region is becoming increasingly anti-Muslim.

“In Latvia and Lithuania, there is a nascent debate about [banning] the wearing of the burka”, the government source said.

The Hungarian government could not be contacted for a comment on Thursday, a national holiday.

But it's one of the few states which has so far not volunteered to take in any asylum seekers or refugees under the EU programme.

Its right-wing PM, Viktor Orban, said, in July, that “We would like for Europe to keep belonging to the Europeans … to preserve the Hungarian Hungary”.

The Czech president, Milos Zeman, has also attacked EU “political correctness”.

He recently said “refugees from a completely different cultural background would not be in a good position in the Czech Republic” and said Muslim migrants are potential terrorists.

Poland, in July, already took in some 60 Christian-only families from Syria.

It did so under a non-EU initiative, organised by a British aid agency, Operation Safe Havens, which brought them over on privately-chartered flights.

The Polish PM, Ewa Kopacz, in the run-up to the project, said Poland, “as a Christian country”, has a special responsibility to help Christians. The Polish opposition party, PiS, which is neck-and-neck in polls ahead of October elections, has said multiculturalism is a “failure” in Europe.

Belgium, which also has a Catholic heritage, has volunteered to take 2,464 asylum seekers and refugees under the EU scheme.

In July, it already took in some 200 Christians from Syria, in a separate NGO initiative.


For its part, Operation Safe Havens denies that it’s discriminatory.

It is sponsored by Lord Weidenfeld, a wealthy British publisher of Jewish origin, who was rescued by Christian groups from Nazi-occupied Austria and who says he wants to repay his dues.

Its spokesman, Andrew Carey, said on Thursday: “Our strong argument is that there are Christian minority communities in Syria and Iraq, which are particularly vulnerable and at risk, and we’d argue priority should be given to those. If that’s regarded as discriminatory, we think that’s wrong”.

He added that Operation Safe Havens is in “advanced negotiations” to resettle a second group of Christian-only families in the EU next month.

He asked EUobserver not to name the host state due to the sensitive timing of the talks, but it is also a Catholic country in eastern Europe.

“The more secular countries quite often have the reaction that it [a Christian-only rescue mission] is discriminatory”, he said.

A contact from another agency which works to highlight the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, who asked not to be named, told this website: “There are quite a few EU countries which have, for years, unofficially given preference to asylum applicants of Christian origin”.

She named Belgium, Ireland, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Sweden, which has a strong Christian-democrat element in its establishment, as well as an increasingly popular anti-Muslim party, the Sweden Democrats.

Sweden has volunteered to take 1,860 asylum seekers and refugees in the EU programme.

It also hosts the highest number of protected migrants per capita in the EU.

“No. That’s not true [that Sweden favours Christian applicants]. I can deny it. In Sweden, we don’t favour any religion. We treat applicants on individual merit”, Erik Boman, a spokesman for the ministry of justice, which handles asylum claims, said.


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

News in Brief

  1. EU countries 'unqualified solidarity' with UK over attack
  2. Seehofer: EU 'patronising' eastern states on migration
  3. How Facebook data helped Trump and Brexit campaigns
  4. Macron, Merkel pledge eurozone reform plan by June
  5. Sweden emerges as possible US-North Korean summit host
  6. Google accused of paying academics backing its policies
  7. New interior minister: 'Islam doesn't belong to Germany'
  8. Hamburg 'dieselgate' driver wins case to get new VW car

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceConmtroversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  2. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  5. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  7. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  8. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  9. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?
  10. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  11. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  12. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework

Latest News

  1. Russia poisoning is not EU concern, Germany says
  2. Kiev wants EU sanctions on former German chancellor
  3. North Korea: time to put the 'E' in engagement
  4. Brexit and trade will top This WEEK
  5. Dutch MPs in plan to shut EU website on Russian propaganda
  6. Four years on – but we will not forget illegally-occupied Crimea
  7. Evacuated women from Libya arrive newly-pregnant
  8. Merkel in Paris for eurozone reform talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  2. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  4. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  5. EUobserverNow Hiring! Sales Associate With 2+ Years Experience
  6. EUobserverNow Hiring! Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience
  7. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  10. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections
  12. CECEIndustry Stakeholders Are Ready to Take the Lead in Digital Construction

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementEuropean Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  10. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementSuing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name
  12. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström