This is a guest post by Eva du Monteil, a freelance writer.
While Europe is facing a growing influx of migrants, a spokesperson for the Slovak Ministry of Interior announced this week that his government will do its part to mitigate the burden on other European Union members, who already have their hands full with the 107,050 immigrants who crossed into the E.U. last month alone. Slovakia, over the next two years, will take in 200 Syrian refugees.
If you need a quick reminder, Syria has been in the midst of war since 2011 and the death toll is estimated to have surpassed 230,000 as of June. The United Nations estimates that the conflict has forced 4 million Syrians to move out of their country.
So Slovakia’s contribution to alleviating their pain, as (ridiculously) modest as it is, is a real godsend. Literally.
Because Slovakia will only accept Christians.
That’s pretty ballsy for a country that lived half a century under an authoritarian regime. In fact, it’s hard to decide what’s more infuriating: Slovakia’s xenophobia or its short memory?
Or maybe it’s bigotry: With three-quarters of the Slovak population Christian and only 13.4% with no religious affiliation, the urge to remain amongst each other may prevail over the one to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
But don’t overestimate their experience with immigration or Islam before you object that they might have valid reasons to object to more diversity: Slovakia is actually one of the strictest countries in the world when it comes to immigration and few Muslims actually reside there.
According to Eurostat, non-EU nationals residing Slovakia account for 0.06% of the population. A study published by the Pew Research Center showed that Muslims make up 0.2% of Slovakia’s more than 5 million people.
They can’t handle any more than that? Really?
Considering that Slovaks aren’t reproducing fast enough to stave off extinction, the smart move would probably be to embrace the opportunity to add a fresh influx of people to the mix. Even if we’re talking about just a handful of non-Christians.
Slovakia’s Interior ministry spokesperson Ivan Netik had a more politically correct explanation for why the policy only allowed Christians to come over:
Mr Netik told the BBC: “We want to really help Europe with this migration wave but… we are only a transit country and the people don’t want to stay in Slovakia.
“We could take 800 Muslims but we don’t have any mosques in Slovakia so how can Muslims be integrated if they are not going to like it here?”
Ahh… so excluding them is for their benefit.
Talk about a double standard: If the Slovak government were to proceed with its selective, highly-discriminatory process, that would send the world a strong signal about the European Union as a community.
Meanwhile, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) called on countries to take an “inclusive approach” to relocation.
This is not the first time that Slovakia’s political elite expressed their refusal to welcome Muslims into their country.
In January, Slovak’s President Robert Fico let the European community know just how prejudiced he really is:
“Given that Slovakia is a country where the Catholic Church dominates, and the second largest is the Lutheran Church, then perhaps we could not easily tolerate that 300 or 400 thousand arriving Muslims would start building mosques and changing the nature, culture and values of the state,” explained Fico.
This does not help further the case of Europe as the world’s champion for human rights.
Beyond that, Slovakia’s announcement casts an even darker light on the people who prefer not to get along in the name of religion and, worse, refuse to offer a helping hand in a time of absolute need.
There is a long road ahead for Europe, and they would benefit from words of wisdom coming from the good ol’ U.S. of A.: Integration is very much a two-way street. It is the shared responsibility of the immigrants and the communities, public institutions, and private organizations to make it work.
How cold-hearted, divisive, and full of hatred do you have to be to refuse to offer other human beings protection on the grounds that they pray to Allah? How is it possible to preach love, tolerance, and compassion… and then fail miserably at all three when your neighbors need it the most? Why is it so hard for staunch religious groups to transcend dogmatic differences and base their interactions with others on more humane ethics?
If only the leaders would heed the words in the Christian holy book.