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Debate shows tough stance on migrations prevalent

Ljubljana, 8 May - The first major televised debate of the election campaign on Monday evening showed an overwhelmingly tough stance on migrations among parties that dominate the polls. Most think Slovenia should beef up border security, some called for an EU-wide approach, and a few suggested a more nuanced focus on tackling migrations at the source.

Ljubljana
The first major televised debate of the election campaign featuring all presidents of the parties running in the 3 June election.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Ljubljana
The first major televised debate of the election campaign featuring all presidents of the parties running in the 3 June election.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Ljubljana
Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec (third from left) and New Slovenia (NSi) leader Matej Tonin (last from left) appear in a televised campaign debate.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

File photo

Ljubljana
The first major televised debate of the election campaign featuring all presidents of the parties running in the 3 June election.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Ljubljana
The first major televised debate of the election campaign featuring all presidents of the parties running in the 3 June election.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Ljubljana
The first major televised debate of the election campaign featuring all presidents of the parties running in the 3 June election.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Ljubljana
The first major televised debate of the election campaign featuring all presidents of the parties running in the 3 June election.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Ljubljana
The first major televised debate of the election campaign featuring all presidents of the parties running in the 3 June election.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Slovenia has seen a three-fold increase in the number of illegal border crossings, recording 1300 so far this year. The majority apply for asylum, but many vanish before proceedings are completed.

Party leaders gathered at the debate at the public broadcaster TV Slovenija offered a series of prescriptions, most of which involved beefing up border control.

There was also near unanimous agreement that the majority of those crossing into Slovenia are economic migrants rather than refugees.

Janez Janša, the leader of the Democrats (SDS), thinks Slovenia should abandon the EU's refugee relocation scheme, which he said would be dead anyway before the next election to the European Parliament.

He also said that the issue would not simply vanish. "Nobody has bombed Pakistan and Algeria. Wars are not the cause, high fertility in the Muslim world is ... This will not end, which is why it is a serious problem. These are not refugees, they are economic migrants."

Marjan Šarec, the leader of the eponymous list, suggested beefing up the police and the army, strengthening border security, and shortening asylum procedures, while also pointing out that this was "an issue for the entire EU".

He also emphasised that Slovenian intelligence services were in shambles, with a strike still ongoing at the intelligence agency SOVA.

This point was also raised by Matej Tonin, the leader of the opposition New Slovenia (NSi), who said it was necessary to "disband SOVA and start from scratch".

The NSi would protect borders by increasing the number of police officers and soldiers. "The world is changing and becoming more dangerous. Slovenia is no longer a bubble of security ... We have to strengthen and reform our security systems," he said.

Meanwhile, Modern Centre Party (SMC) leader Miro Cerar defended his government's record on migrations, noting that the government had been providing security for four years while treating refugees and migrants humanely.

As a result, he said, Slovenia is safe, though it is necessary to remain vigilant. "Slovenia is safe, we should not scare our people, but we have to make sure the police are well equipped," he said, while also stressing that "the intelligence service is working well".

Dejan Židan, the leader of the coalition Social Democrats (SD), acknowledged that the security situation had changed and that more would have to be invested in "all forms of security", in particular the defence system.

"If we are safe, when migrants are not a security issue, they will not be exploited as potential threat to change the social system in the direction of the Hungarian system," he said.

Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) leader Karl Erjavec, the foreign minister, meanwhile stressed that the deal with Turkey was what made it possible to stem the first migration wave, and indicated an EU-wide approach was needed.

"If that deal collapses, we may expect a surge of 3.5 million [people]. Europe has to get ready for that, this is not just Slovenia's or Croatia's problem."

This was also echoed by Alenka Bratušek, the former prime minister and leader of the Alenka Bratušek Party, who said the border needed to be protected and Slovenia ought to insist on a common EU solution. "Our country will not solve this global issue alone," she said.

Luka Mesec, the leader of the opposition Left, meanwhile stressed that everyone was offering "various shades of the 'army on the borders' prescription", while in fact migrations needed to be tackled at the source.

His view was echoed by Uroš Lubej of the non-parliamentary Solidarity, who said that "we should be building hospitals instead of throwing bombs" in the Middle East.

Rok Andree of the Pirate Party noted that the way to make sure migrants do not cause problems was to prevent them from "sinking to the social bottom" once they arrive in the country.

Bojan Požar of the List of Journalist Bojan Požar as well as Mirko Zidanšek of the People's Party (SLS) and Bojan Dobovšek of Good State called for stricter border control, with the latter urging a multi-faceted approach.

Some of the smaller parties also warned about broader social implications of migrations.

Zidanšek thus said he wanted to "live in a normal democracy, not under Sharia law" and Dobovšek said those who remained in Slovenia needed to "accept our values".

Zmago Jelinčič of the National Party (SNS) said all migrants who cross the border should be "taken directly to Germany", while Aleš Primc of the United Right said that "our children and women deserve a sense of security, and when mass rapes start, it will be too late to act".

Migrations were the dominant topic of the debate aside from health care; both were chosen by TV Slovenija based on recent Eurobarometer findings showing that these are among the top concerns for Slovenians.

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© STA, 2018