French and U.N. leaders on Tuesday condemned officials who say that Europe's acceptance of refugees from the Mideast ought to be limited to migrants who are Christians.
After two French mayors said in recent days their towns would accept only Christians and not Muslims, France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve attacked their stance in a television interview.
"I really don't understand this distinction," Cazeneuve said. "I condemn it, and I think it's dreadful. A whole series of minorities are being persecuted in the situation in Syria. Christians from the Middle East must be welcomed, but there are also Muslims and other minorities who are persecuted with the same degree of barbarity."
With Europe struggling to cope with its biggest stream of migrants since World War II, right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said his countrymen are "full of fear" that Europe's acceptance of so many Muslims from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries will undermine Europe's Christian roots.
"It's absurd — just think about it," Orban said, "when the Germans say they will spend billions on providing for the new arrivals instead of giving the money to the countries around the crisis zone, where they [migrants] should be stopped in the first place. It would be better for everyone. They wouldn't come here. It would cost less. And our approach couldn't be called into question morally either."
Neighboring Slovakia announced last month that it would take only Christian migrants because there are no mosques in the country, which it said would make it hard for them to integrate in Slovakia.
Peter Sutherland, the special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for migration and development, said Tuesday that singling out Christians for favored refugee treatment violated basic U.N. principles.
"Of course Christians who are refugees are entitled to be given sanctuary," he said. "Of course they are. What I objected to was any subdefinition of refugees, which were not Christians and which, in some way, one can say, as has been said, we will not save, we will not provide refuge to others who are not Christians. That to my mind is a definition, a subdefinition, of refugee which is not consistent with the convention or with the fundamental principles of the U.N."