Ukrainians should be considered in voluntary EU refugee quotas – Czech president

Czech Republic's President Milos Zeman ©
Ukrainian refugees should be included in the number of asylum seekers redistributed among the EU member states under the proposed quota system, for the scheme to be truly voluntary, believes Czech President Milos Zeman.

“I have my own view, on which I had not consulted the government, that the voluntary quotas, if they are called so, should include Ukrainians,” Zeman told journalists in Azerbaijan where he is on an official visit, Ceske Noviny reports.

LIVE UPDATES: End of Schengen? EU countries toughen border control

“Ukrainians, too, are refugees and with their origin and diligence, they are somewhat close to us,” he added. Zeman said also that he agrees with the Czech government that the refugees should be accepted on voluntary basis.

That is not the first statement of Milos Zeman in which he calls for accepting Ukrainian refugees instead of refugees from the Middle East.

“I think that we would not have to accept any refugees from countries distant from us in terms of culture. It is quite different with accepting, let’s say, Ukrainians,” Zeman said in June during a meeting with the community of the city of Jihlava as cited by the Ukrainian Independent Information Agency. He emphasized that Ukrainians are hard-working and do not have sharp language differences with the Czechs.

READ MORE: Central European PMs reject EU proposal for refugee quota system

The issue is, however, a subject of fierce debates in the Czech Republic. On Wednesday, Human Rights Minister Jiri Dienstbier said that the country should express solidarity with other EU states and may be able to accept up to 15,000 refugees. Interior Minister Milan Chovanec negatively reacted to the Dienstbier’s words, saying ironically he had not known that Dienstbier had such a large flat.

The Czech Republic – along with Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – is a member of the Vyshegrad Group, which opposes the idea of compulsory migrant quotas across the EU. On Monday, disapproval by those states as well as the Baltic countries resulted in the failure of the plan to distribute 120,000 refugees across the EU.

“Some states apparently believe they bear no responsibility and are under no obligation to participate in the joint response to the current great challenge,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told the German television network ZDF after the emergency meeting of the European interior ministers in Brussels.

The German minister also emphasized that he agreed with the suggestion of the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, who proposed that the EU should “look at whether these countries [that refuse quotas] should get less structural funds.”

LISTEN MORE: