Slovenia PM facing impeachment over support for refugee

Miro Cerar accused of seeking to interfere with judiciary after he voiced support for Syrian man, Ahmad Shamieh, who is facing deportation.

The prime minister of Slovenia, Miro Cerar, one of the few liberal leaders in central and eastern Europe, is facing impeachment over his support for a Syrian asylum seeker who is facing deportation.

Should the country’s rightwing opposition party be successful in their motion, Cerar, the leader of the centrist moderate party, could be dismissed from office by the Slovenian MPs, although government sources insist the prime minister has enough support in parliament to vote down the motion.

The future of Ahmad Shamieh, a 60-year-old man who arrived in Slovenia in 2015, where he learned the language and became an example of successful refugee integration, has nevertheless become a key dividing line in the country’s politics, whatever the outcome of the impeachment process.

Government sources claim the opposition to Cerar’s support of Shamieh is a “staged case” designed to destabilise the government in the run-up to national elections next year.

Many tens of thousands of refugees have passed through Slovenia since the refugee crisis began, leading Cerar to claim two years ago that without action to control Europe’s frontiers, the EU would collapse as individual member states took unilateral action. The issue of immigration remains highly controversial in the country.

Shamieh’s case took hold of the public imagination when his asylum claim was rejected this summer by the Slovenian courts, which ordered that he should be deported in order to make his application for asylum in Croatia, his first port of call in the EU after leaving Syria.

Two prominent MPs, Jan Škoberne, from the leftwing SD party in the coalition government, and Mihe Kordis, an MP from the leftwing opposition Levica party, took Shamieh to Slovenia’s parliament building to prevent the police from taking him away.

When pushed in a press conference last week on his own response to the case, Cerar, who has been prime minister since 2014, suggested that he also wanted to find a way to grant Shamieh residence on the grounds of his integration into Slovenian society.

His response prompted claims from rightwingers in the Slovenian parliament that Cerar, a constitutional lawyer, had sought to interfere in the affairs of the independent judiciary.

On 15 November the opposition Democrats (SDS), led by Janez Janša, a rightwing former prime minister, announced they would seek to impeach Cerar.

Janša, who was sentenced to two years in prison on corruption charges in 2013, only for the case to be later dismissed by the constitutional court, has previously accused Cerar of being anti-Slovenian, for putting foreigners first.

While other eastern European states have boycotted an EU scheme to disperse refugees, Slovenia has taken in 335 people from Greece and Italy out of its EU quota of 567.

Cerar has 30 days to answer the charges before a vote in parliament, where the opposition will require a two-thirds majority to carry the motion and force a public court hearing.

Only three impeachment motions have been submitted to parliament in the history of the country, founded in 1991 from former Yugoslavia, but none as yet have received a sufficient backing to proceed to the constitutional court.

In the course of events, Shamieh has suffered a nervous breakdown and is currently in a psychiatric hospital.

He is still expected to be deported to Croatia once he is better, where he will be able to apply to return to Slovenia. Senior Slovenian government sources said, however, that Shamieh’s ill-health may also offer him a right to appeal to the Slovenian court.

Slovenian government sources further claimed that the issue had been politicised by both the left and the right to destabilise Cerar’s government in the lead-up to next’s years parliamentary elections.

“It is a tragic case,” said one source. “Left and right have used him for their own purposes and the government was squeezed in between. This is a staged affair. And this poor guy has been instrumentalised.”