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Eastern European leaders double down on anti-migrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric
In the wake of a spate of New Year's Eve assaults in European cities, some leaders have reiterated their tough stance on stopping the flow of migrants into the continent.
As The Washington Post's Anthony Faiola writes, authorities in Germany, Finland and Sweden implicated suspected asylum seekers from countries in the Middle East in the incidents, which included a rape as well as numerous reports of harassment and groping of women in the streets of Cologne and other northern European cities.
The events of New Year's Eve, reports Faiola, have deepened "a strain of public outrage, prompting calls for new steps and threatening to ignite a new wave of anti-refugee sentiment in Europe."
Most conspicuous among the voices opposed to migrants were those of a few Eastern European leaders, who have consistently spoken against the need to accommodate refugees since an unprecedented influx reached the European Union's borders last year. A good number of the arrivals were men, women and children fleeing the conflict in Syria.
Their plight won little sympathy from figures such as Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose government last year started something of a grim trend when it indicated it would only take Christian refugees. On Thursday, Fico told reporters that he would "never make a voluntary decision that would lead to the formation of a unified Muslim community in Slovakia," and pointed to the incidents over New Year's Eve as justification for his conviction.
"Multiculturalism is a fiction. Once you let migrants in, you can face such problems," Fico said.
In nearby Hungary, right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban also stuck to a familiar script. He told reporters that renewed Turkish efforts to stanch the numbers of refugees making the crossing west were insufficient and called for a new frontier against migrants to be built along Greece's northern land border with Turkey.
He also called for a total halt to arrivals, insisting that Europe needed to "stop, not slow down, but stop migration." (Not for nothing did the Post brand Orban "Europe's Donald Trump" last year.)
Under Orban's watch, Hungary last year built a razor-wire barrier along its border with Serbia and penned hundreds of migrants — the majority of whom were seeking merely to transit through the country to friendlier locales — in squalid temporary camps. Orban has framed the crisis as a civilizational threat facing European Christendom.
Hungary and Slovakia possess only tiny Muslim populations, and little experience of settling and assimilating refugees. Muslims, for example, make up just 0.2 percent of Slovakia's more than 5 million people. In 2014, Slovakia granted asylum to 14 people in total.
Yet rather than reflecting a hardened fringe, the rhetoric of conservative Eastern European leaders regarding Muslims and migrants appears to be gaining traction elsewhere in Europe.
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hailed for her open doors policy to Syrian refugees, seemed to backtrack. Facing growing discontent over the refugee influx, Merkel suggested last month that Germany was reaching its limits in terms of accommodating refugees and, for good measure, also deemed multiculturalism a "sham."
[Source: By Ishaan Tharoor, The Washington Post, 09Jan16]
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