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‘Migrant wave an organised invasion’

A volunteer lifeguard shows the way to an overcrowded dinghy with refugees and migrants as they approach the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey’s coast on Dec 26. (AP)
A volunteer lifeguard shows the way to an overcrowded dinghy with refugees and migrants as they approach the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey’s coast on Dec 26. (AP)

PRAGUE, Dec 27, (Agencies): Czech President Milos Zeman on Saturday called the current wave of refugees to Europe “an organised invasion”, adding young men from Syria and Iraq should instead “take up arms” against the Islamic State (IS) group. “I am profoundly convinced that we are facing an organised invasion and not a spontaneous movement of refugees,” said Zeman in his Christmas message to the Czech Republic released Saturday. He went on to say that compassion was “possible” for refugees who are old or sick and for children, but not for young men who in his view should be back home fighting against jihadists.

“A large majority of the illegal migrants are young men in good health, and single. I wonder why these men are not taking up arms to go fight for the freedom of their countries against the Islamic State,” said Zeman, who was elected Czech president in early 2013. He added that their fleeing their war-torn countries only serves to strengthen the IS group. The 71-year-old evoked a comparison to the situation of Czechs who left their country when it was under Nazi occupation from 1939- 1945.

It is not the first time Zeman has taken a controversial stance on Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II. In November, the leftwinger attended an anti-Islam rally in Prague in the company of farright politicians and a paramilitary unit. The country’s Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who has previously criticised the head of state’s comments, said Zeman’s Christmas message was based “on prejudices and his habitual simplification of things”.

Migrants are not the only target of Zeman’s caustic remarks: he said last week that his country should introduce the euro on the first day after indebted Greece’s departure from the common currency, causing Athens to recall its ambassador. He also said he was “very disappointed” that talks in the summer to eject Greece from the euro did not come to fruition.

Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, former communist countries that joined the European Union in 2004, have rejected the EU’s system of quotas for distributing refugees amid the current migrant wave. More than one million migrants and refugees reached Europe this year, mainly fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The crisis has strained ties within the European Union, with mostly newer members taking a firm antimigrant stance and some northern countries like Germany welcoming those fleeing war. Few asylum seekers have chosen to stay in the Czech Republic, a NATO member nation of 10.5 million people. Regardless, a recent survey showed that nearly 70 percent of Czechs oppose the arrival of migrants and refugees in their country.

Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble criticised Greece on Sunday over the way it deals with refugees, saying Athens has ignored for years the European Union’s Dublin rules that oblige migrants to file for asylum in the first EU country they arrive in. Schaeuble told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that German courts had decided some time ago that refugees were not being treated humanely in Greece and could not be sent back there, contrary to the Dublin rules. Greece, a main gateway to Europe for migrants crossing the Aegean sea, has faced criticism from other EU governments who say it has done little to manage the flow of hundreds of thousands of people arriving on its shores. “The Greeks should not put the blame for their problems only on others, they should also see how they can do better themselves,” said Schaeuble, who has repeatedly clashed with Greek officials over economic policy this year.

In contrast to his criticism of Greece, Schaeuble sought to offer to compromise with eastern European states that have voiced reluctance to accept migrants under EU quotas. “Solidarity doesn’t start by insulting each other,” Schaeuble said. “Eastern European states will also have to take in refugees, but fewer than Germany.” Bavaria’s top security official is urging fuller border controls on the German-Austrian frontier and says his state would like to pitch in. Germany introduced border controls Sept 13 amid a huge influx of refugees and other migrants. Borders are the federal government’s responsibility and federal police have been carrying out checks.

The conservative government in Bavaria, which borders Austria and where most migrants first set foot in Germany, has been particularly vociferous in demanding that the influx be reduced. State interior minister Joachim Herrmann told Sunday’s edition of the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that there are some border crossings federal police can’t control for lack of staff. He said that “we would like to act ourselves here and control the borders.”

However, Herrmann said the federal government rejected the idea. Germany’s navy said Saturday it rescued over 10,000 migrants at sea this year, including more than 500 people off the coast of Libya on Christmas day. “The German navy’s ships rescued 10,528 people since May 7, 2015,” when its fleet launched a rescue operation, the Bundeswehr said on its website. One ship went into action at Christmas on Friday some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Libyan coast, rescuing 539 people on board three inflatable boats and a wooden vessel. A frigate and a patrol boat from Italy as well as a Maltese tanker assisted in the latest rescue operation. Two German ships are taking part in the European Union’s rescue Operation Sophia

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