GABCIKOVO, Slovakia – The next act of the European refugee crisis will unfold in little towns like this one, where hundreds of Syrian war refugees are coming to live in a village that just voted by overwhelming numbers to oppose their stay.
Over the past few days, the first of 500 Syrian asylum seekers arrived to take up three-month residency at a state-run dormitory in the center of town.
Last month, as locals watched the news of streams of migrants winding their way through Europe, the village held a special referendum: 97 percent voted to oppose reopening the Slovakian government’s refugee facility. “We’re not haters,” said Zoltan Jakus, one of the organizers of the vote. “But I think this will end badly.”
With the refugee crisis escalating, European Union leaders last week approved a plan to spread 120,000 asylum seekers across 28 nations on the continent, over the objections of Central European countries. Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia voted against the measure, a rare note of discord.
The residents of Gabcikovo wonder why wars and unrest thousands of miles away, involving Muslims, should be their business. Gabcikovo is a town of 5,000 residents, where pensioners ride bicycles along quiet lanes, where everybody not only knows your name, but also what football club you support and what beer you drink. Most of them speak Hungarian and are Catholic.
The people of Gabcikovo say they are not coldhearted or racist, but they are clearly worried, and many of them are asking the same questions as other Europeans who feel uneasy about the rising numbers of war refugees and economic migrants.
“Who are these people? Where do they come from? Why are they here?” said Daniel Koczkas, 27. “We have no problem with different colors, but we don’t know them.”