EU tripling funds for Mediterranean Sea rescue, Czech Republic providing experts, funds and a plane
Speaking after an extraordinary summit on migration in Brussels on 24 April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told journalists the European Union will triple its funding for the Frontex agency's operations in the Mediterranean Sea. President of the EU Council Donald Tusk added that presidents and prime ministers have already promised airplanes, boats, experts and money.
Tusk said saving human lives is a basic priority of the European Union at a time when hundreds are dying in the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to reach Europe. Fabrice Leggeri, the Executive Director of Frontex, welcomed the summit's conclusions.
In a statement, Leggeri said the promised funds will facilitate a significant enhancement of operations in the Mediaterranean Sea and the effort by his organization to prevent future tragedies. Tusk also said that Federica Mogherini, the head of EU diplomacy, will begin preparations for a possible mission that should facilitate the confiscation and destruction of boats used by smugglers to transport migrants across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, speaking at a national press conference, added that such a military action would require the consent of the UN Security Council. "The protection of life is not just about protecting people at sea, but also about stopping smugglers and addressing illegal migration," Tusk said after the extraordinary session of presidents and prime ministers of the EU-28, which lasted four and a half hours.
Tusk said the EU did not cause the current situation but must be prepared to respond to it. "A complicated summer awaits us," he warned.
According to the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 35 000 asylum-seekers and migrants have sailed to southern Europe already this year. As many as 1 500 pepole have evidently met their deaths in the Mediterranean Sea.
During all of last year, the UNHCR estimates that 219 000 such people set sail for Europe, 3 500 of whom did not survive. Frontex reports that during the coming months more than one million people could attempt to cross the sea.
Thursday's extraordinary summit was convened by Tusk at the request of Italy after as many as 900 people lost their lives off the coast of Libya, and other people have died at sea since then. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said after the summit that the EU has now adopted a strategic position on the problem.
The conclusions of the summit mention a voluntary pilot project for relocating refugees and resettling those now in refugee camps outside the EU. The originally mentioned figure of 5 000 such persons, however, was ultimately removed from the definitive version.
Merkel said that number would have been perceived as insufficient. The Chancellor, whose country is among the minority of EU states that accept most refugees, recalled the current "inequality" in the numbers of refugees accepted by various Member States.
She said that 75 % of all asylum seekers in the EU are accepted by Germany, France, and Sweden. "We must think about how to further improve the implementation of the rules already in effect," she said.
The summit, however, warned of the need to establish a way to disperse refugees in case of crisis situations. "It will be a matter for the individual Member States and decisions by the individual national governments to what extent they want to participate in these projects," the Czech Prime Minister said.
Sobotka justified the need for voluntary involvement by referencing the various cultural, demographic and economic conditions that asylum policy must correspond to. "We are doing our best to behave responsibly in solidarity. We are providing asylum to those who have been persecuted," he said.
People who are endeavoring to reach the EU from Libya are frequently said to be primarily emigrating for economic reasons. The EU's Frontex agency is responsible for protecting the EU's external border.
The agency is now implementing its Triton operation in the Mediterranean Sea. Its monthly budget is approximately EUR 2.9 million and involves four airplanes, a helicopter and seven boats of various types.
A second, smaller Frontex operation called Poseidon is running in the area of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. When arriving for the summit, several participants announced the financial contributions they would be making to enhance these operations.
The summit concluded that the budget will be tripled for this year and next. Sobotka said the Czech Republic will contribute up to 60 experts, a CASA airplane, and CZK 10 million (EUR 364 000), while Britain will provide a flagship, two other vessels, and three helicopters.
Merkel said Germany is counting on the involvement of two of its vessels and is prepared to provide more money should it be needed. The Czech Republic could offer Frontex other resources, such as field vehicles, thermovision instruments and specially trained dogs, according to Sobotka.
The EU wants to collaborate with countries in the region on preventing illegal migration. A conference will be held with African Union (AU) countries at a conference in Malta in the coming months.
Sobotka said the EU intends to discuss with the AU how to prevent illegal migration to Europe. Merkel also mentioned the need to enhance development work with partner countries in the region.
The concluding statements also mention closer collaboration with Turkey with respect to developments in Iraq and Syria. The issue of migration will also be reviewed by the EU summit in June.
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