Czech president calls wave of migrants heading to Europe an 'organised invasion'

Czech President Milos Zeman at the Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic.
Czech President Milos Zeman at the Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic. PHOTO: EPA

PRAGUE (AFP) - Czech President Milos Zeman on Saturday (Dec 26) 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 in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

"I am profoundly convinced that we are facing an organised invasion and not a spontaneous movement of refugees," said Mr Zeman in his Christmas message to the Czech Republic, released on 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 militants.

"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 Mr Zeman, who was elected Czech president in early 2013, using an alternative name for ISIS.

He added that their fleeing their war-torn countries only serves to strengthen ISIS.

The 71-year-old evoked a comparison to the situation of Czechs who left their country when it was under Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945.

It is not the first time Mr 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 far-right politicians and a paramilitary unit.

The country's Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who has previously criticised the head of state's comments, said Mr Zeman's Christmas message was based "on prejudices and his habitual simplification of things".

Migrants are not the only target of Mr 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 European Union'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 anti-migrant 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 per cent of Czechs oppose the arrival of migrants and refugees in their country.