23rd Mar 2018

Refugee case could topple Slovenia government

  • Cerar wanted to let Shamieh stay on humanitarian grounds (Photo: European council)

The Slovenian government is at risk of collapse over the fate of a single Syrian refugee - who faces deportation to Croatia under EU rules.

The case of Ahmad Shamieh gathered force last week when the ruling liberal party of prime minister Miro Cerar, the SMC, took the 60-year old man under its protection.

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  • Scenes at the Slovenian border at the height of the refugee crisis (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Shamieh, who arrived in Slovenia in late 2015, but who entered EU territory via Croatia, is threatened with deportation under the EU's so-called 'Dublin' asylum rule, which says that the point-of-entry state should take care of applicants.

Cerar's party wanted to bypass Dublin under another law, the Aliens Act, which would allow Shamieh temporary residence in Slovenia on grounds of the effort he had made to integrate in Slovenian society.

Shamieh has learned to speak Slovenian and has taken part in a list of cultural and humanitarian projects which earned him a good name in his community.

The case exploded when four MPs from liberal and left-leaning parties took up his cause to stop a deportation order.

Two of them, Jan Skoberne, from the left-wing SD party in the ruling coalition, and Mihe Kordis, an MP from the left-wing opposition Levica party, picketed Shamieh's home alongside local supporters and later took him to the parliament building to stop police from taking him away.

But as of last Friday, Cerar had failed to get a government consensus to let Shamieh stay, the deportation order remained in place, and the Syrian man was hospitalised for a nervous breakdown.

As of Monday (20 November), the Slovenian prime minister also faced calls for his impeachment from the conservative opposition SDS party as well as stark warnings of a coalition withdrawal by the centrist DeSUS party of foreign minister and deputy prime minister Karl Erjavec.

Erjavec said Cerar had "abused" the situation and that his failure to enact the deportation was "illegal".

He said the "more elegant option" would be to send Shamieh to Croatia and then to let him come back to Slovenia on a temporary passport.

He said no harm would come to him in Croatia, adding: "After all, every year 1 million Slovenians [tourists] travel there".

The Shamieh case throws into relief the politics of the EU migration crisis in central and eastern Europe.

Slovenia has taken in 335 people from Greece and Italy out of its EU burden-sharing quota of 567.

But several governments in the region - including Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia - have boycotted the EU scheme in order to court right-wing votes.

They have also stoked public fear over the potential terrorist threat posed by Muslim migrants.

The next Slovenian election is due in July 2018.

An opinion poll for the Delo newspaper on Monday said a small majority of people felt that the SDS impeachment motion was not warranted.

A Delo opinion poll in October said the refugee-friendly SD party was the most popular with 16.4 percent support, followed by the refugee-hostile SDS on 15 percent, and Cerar's SMC on 11.9 percent. Erjavec's DeSUS party got 5.5 percent.

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