Age of Aquarius: EU needs “more than a few boats” to fight human trafficking, Czech PM says

Aquarius, photo: ČTK/AP/Darko Bandic

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has said that in order to stem the flow of economic migrants into the EU, the border protection agency Frontex needs a clear mandate allowing its agents to operate “outside of Europe”. In a statement to the European Commission on Monday, Babiš also said that Frontex needs “more than just a few boats” to do its job and therefore must be better funded.

Aquarius,  photo: ČTK/AP/Darko Bandic
Andrej Babiš’s statement to the EU Commission came as Spain’s prime minister pledged to give “safe harbour” to the Aquarius, a migrant rescue ship that Italy and Malta had refused to let dock. The Aquarius was carrying over 600 African migrants, including 120 unaccompanied minors, who had been picked up in inflatable boats off the Libyan coast at the weekend.

Citing the situation of the Aquarius, the Czech prime minister said that to avoid “economic migrants” from taking to the sea, the EU must do more to combat human traffickers. At the same time, Babiš said, “people in real need, fleeing conflict or persecution, must have the opportunity to seek asylum outside of Europe”.

Meanwhile, plans to reform the so-called Dublin regulation on responsibility for asylum seekers are pitting Mediterranean states, which want to disperse migrant arrivals around the EU, against inland states such as the Czech Republic, which are rejecting mandatory quotas.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/AP/Petr David Josek
Martin Rozumek, director of the Prague-based Organisation for Aid to Refugees (OPU), says the European asylum policy known as Dublin IV is nonetheless enforceable.

“I think it can be [enforced]. The question is when – I’m sceptical because Italy does not want to become a refugee camp for the whole of Europe. Italy would like to distribute the refugees throughout Europe to the greatest extent possible. Countries such as the Czech Republic do not want anyone at all, so it is difficult to find a compromise. So I’m sceptical."

Since the migration crisis of 2015/2016, Czechs often mischaracterise asylum seekers from war zones such as Syria as economic migrants, according to Rozumek, who notes that in any case, this country has a severe labour shortage, which foreign workers could help fill.

“The situation can no longer in any way be characterised as a ‘mass migration’. And the Czech Republic needs migrants. Many are working and studying here. And as we quite often hear in the media, without migrants our economy would be in trouble,” he said.

Martin Rozumek,  photo: Petra Čechová / Czech Radio
The EU Commission is meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss funds earmarked for dealing with migration issues within the next long-term EU budget, from 2021-2027. In early May, EU Commission representatives discussed significant bolstering Frontex and how much money to allocate to fight illegal migration and for returning economic migrants to their countries of origin.

Earlier in the day, the European Parliament and Council reached a political agreement on Commission proposals to strengthen the Schengen Information System – Europe’s most widely used information sharing system for security and border management.