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Czech PM wants to increase aid to refugees after 900 drown near Italy, EU convenes extraordinary summit

21.4.2015 21:09
Refugees from Africa. (PHOTO:  Vito Manzari, Wikimedia Commons)
Refugees from Africa. (PHOTO: Vito Manzari, Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday foreign ministers from EU countries were slated to review the situation of thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to get to Europe. Federica Mogherini, the head of European diplomacy, asked over the weekend for this point to be added to the agenda of yesterday's meeting after yet another in a series of accidents at sea evidently cost the lives of as many as 900 people Saturday.

Italy, which has been managing the influx of refugees from northern Africa with difficulty, would be glad for an extraordinary EU summit to review the issue this week. According to Mogherini, the EU must rapidly begin addressing the refugee crisis on its southern border.

"Every day it is our responsibility to save human lives, and we should share this obligation and responsibility among all 28 [EU Member States] that has rested for too long on the backs of the southern countries," she said in response to Saturday's tragedy. During last week alone 11 000 people sailed to the Italian shore from Africa.

During last year a record 170 000 people arrived in Italy this way. Reuters reports that the number of people who have died during the risky journey from northern Africa to Europe has increased by almost a factor of nine year-on-year.

Should the number of victims from last weekend's accident be confirmed, it will be one of the biggest mishaps of its kind in decades. "A tragedy is happening in the Mediterranean and if the EU and the world continue to close their eyes to it, they will be condemned just as harshly as they were in the past when they closed their eyes to genocides and when those who were well-off did nothing," commented Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat.  

In January the Czech Government approved the reception of 15 children from Syria who are ill, accompanied by their families. Most Czech politicians made it very clear on that occasion that the country rejects the idea of centrally establishing quotas for the reception of refugees by the EU for the Member States and that they believe the Czech Republic is not prepared for a bigger influx of immigrants.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Czech Prime Minister Sobota said:  "What is happening in the Mediterranean Sea is genuinely a series of enormous misfortunes and human tragedies. Dozens and sometimes hundreds of people are dying there and it's something that obviously disturbs everyone in Europe."

In order for this tragedy to be averted, Sobotka believes the EU should concentrate on stabilizing the countries from which or through which these refugees are traveling. He believes the EU should primarily strive to facilitate peace talks in Libya, from which thousands of people are heading to Europe.

"Without this, it is impossible to imagine that the stream of refugees from Africa will slow down or stop," he pointed out. He also said the Czech Republic is prepared to increase its aid to refugees.

According to the Czech PM, local aid is best in order to create better living conditions for local residents. "The Czech Republic provides direct aid to many refugee camps and we are prepared within the framework of European solidarity to increase the amount of aid we provide," he said.  

Once again, Sobotka rejected the idea of introducing quotas for refugee reception EU-wide. Last weekend's tragedy took place in the sea off the Libyan coast.

Hundreds of migrants died at sea during the preceding week as well. During the first quarter of 2015, approximately 1 500 people died trying to sail the Mediterranean Sea and reach Europe, while the United Nations reports that during all of last year approximately 3 500 people died this way.

On Thursday 23 April an extraordinary EU summit will review the situation in Brussels. According to the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, the aim will be to discuss at the highest level what the Member States can and must do, together with the EU institutions, to ameliorate the situation.

"I do not anticipate any rapid solution for the root causes of migration, because if one existed we would have taken advantage of it long ago," Tusk admitted. He said it is also necessary to accelerate how to address those who "cynically make money" on smuggling people, risking the lives of others in so doing.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called over the weekend for the summit to be convened. Italy in particular bears the greatest burden of the wave of refugees.

Until last year, Italy saved refugees at sea itself as part of its Mare Nostrum operation. That operation has now been replaced by the Triton mission of Frontex, which has a significantly smaller budget and is restricted in practice only to patrolling the areas concerned.

bau, ČTK, mik, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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