PM Andrej Babiš says Czechs ready to prepare plan to halt illegal migration to EU

Photo: ČTK/AP/Orietta Scardino

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has said that to bring a halt to illegal migration a comprehensive action plan for the entire European Union is needed – and the Czech Republic is ready to prepare just such a proposal. To stem the tide, he has even floated the idea of the protection of EU borders being transferred to the Nato level.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl
Mr Babiš left Tuesday morning for an official visit to Italy at the invitation of his Italian counterpart, Giuseppe Conte, which was extended in July after the Czech prime minister rejected Rome’s request for help in settling 450 migrants rescued from a Mediterranean fishing boat.

In Mr Babiš’s view, those people were economic migrants, engaged in “asylum shopping” – which is to say not seeking the first safe harbour from a conflict but a better life in the most prosperous EU country that will have them – and the bloc must send a clear message that illegal immigration will not be tolerated.

“I am convinced that Europe must have a plan to resolve the migration question in a comprehensive way. We have lost four years foolishly debating quotas. In short, the message being sent is that Europe is open and that we have to care for everyone who comes illegally and will disperse them amongst us.”

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

Mr Babiš, who will also visit the island nation of Malta to discuss the migration issue, says he does not expect concrete results from Tuesday’s meeting. But he does want to know first-hand the views countries on the “frontlines” of combating illegal migration, as he puts it.

In particular, he wants to know if Mr Conte also believes that Frontex – the EU agency charged with protecting the bloc’s borders – needs to have significantly expanded powers and personnel, and in that regard, have its current annual budget trebled, to some 10 billion euros.

Mr Babiš said that a comprehensive EU must plan be drafted and that his own government is ready to do this – but agreement within the bloc itself is only the first step.

Migrants pray aboard the Italian Coast Guard ship Diciotti moored at the Catania harbor,  August 22,  2018,  photo: ČTK/AP/Orietta Scardino
“We must then negotiate with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt about them stopping migration at their southern borders. Then we need a comprehensive plan for Africa – for the individual countries from where these migrants are coming. They are economic migrants, not people fleeing war.”

Mr Babiš has also floated the idea of protection of EU borders being transferred to the Nato level. Regardless the chosen path, he said, until a solution is found, his government will not agree to take in “a single illegal migrant” – and frontline countries such as Italy, Malta, Spain and Greece should do the same.

Police in the Czech Republic detained 2,376 illegal immigrants in the first six months of 2018, the interior ministry said in a quarterly migration report released on Tuesday. Most were not from Africa or the Middle East – the focus of Mr Babiš's concern – but from Ukraine, Moldova and Russia.

The ministry report noted an annual rise of only 132 illegal immigrants being detained in January through June, signalling that the situation has stabilised since the migrant crisis of 2015/2016. In terms of so-called transiting illegal migration across the Czech Republic, the ministry noted just 124 cases, of whom 69 were from Iraq, 15 from Nigeria and 10 from Syria.