Europe doesn’t have much to be proud of following the record number of people, including many from Syria, that have arrived on its shores this year. But recent moves by countries in eastern Europe to cherry-pick refugees based on religion—specifically favoring Christian refugees over Muslims—are getting particularly ugly.
Earlier this month, Slovakia’s interior ministry said it would be willing to take in 200 refugees, but would strongly prefer non-Muslims. “We want to choose people who really want to start a new life in Slovakia. Slovakia as a Christian country can really help Christians from Syria to find new home in Slovakia,” said Ivan Netik, a spokesman for the ministry, according to Reuters. “In Slovakia we have really tiny community of Muslims. We even don’t have mosques.”
Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz described Poland as a Christian country with a particular responsibility to help Christians. It has taken in several Christian-only groups (paywall) of refugees sponsored by non-governmental organizations, and the country’s immigration agency told the Financial Times that applicants’ “religious background will have [an] impact on their refugee status applications.”
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has said that his country has “nothing against Muslims,” but that accepting Muslim refugees might tilt the country’s religious make-up, which is currently 60% Orthodox Christian and 8% Muslim. Estonian minister of social affairs Margus Tsahkna, arguing against taking in Muslim migrants, said, “After all, we are a country belonging to Christian culture.” And Czech President Milos Zeman said that refugees “from a completely different cultural background” would not be a good fit.
Discrimination on the basis of religion is specifically prohibited under European law—which is one of the reasons people fleeing sectarian conflicts in places like Syria seek asylum there in the first place.
But religious intolerance is only a small facet of the larger problem: So far this year, 340,000 people are known to have crossed into Europe over its borders, according to Frontex, the EU agency responsible for border security. Germany has processed over 44,000 applications for asylum, and that it expects as many as 800,000 new refugees in 2015 alone. But other EU countries have been very slow to take on anything like equal responsibility, and are especially resistant to the idea of a quota system.