The Czech Republic does not want any of the 450 migrants rescued from a migrant vessel in the Mediterranean on Saturday, and neither does Italy. The Czech president called the EU's latest shared responsibility plan "a road to hell".
Germany, France and Malta have agreed take in 50 migrants each, but the Czech Republic – part of the Visegrad Four – has refused. Italy does not want to allow the 450 migrants into the country either. It is the first test of the EU’s new policy to share burden of rescued migrants.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis tweeted that the EU’s contingency plan was a “road to hell”. He said on Twitter: “I received a copy of the letter from Prime Minister Contes, together with the other EU premieres, to the President of the European Council, Tusk and the European Commission Juncker, where the Italian Prime Minister is asking the EU to take care of the 450 people currently on the seas. Such an approach is the road to hell.
“It only motivates smugglers and increases their income. Our countries will not accept any migrants. At the European Council, we have applied the principle of volunteering for relocation, and we will stick to it.
“The only solution to the migration crisis is the Australian model, not to allow the landing of migrants in Europe and the return of the ships from which they emerge. We must send a clear signal that illegal migration has ended and that the European Union is ready to return illegal migrants immediately.”
Babis added: “We must help migrants in the countries from where they come, outside the borders of Europe, so that they can not go on their journey at all. There is no solution to accepting people, on the contrary it increases the problem that we have in Europe.”
The EU came up with the new plan last month after Italy’s refusal to accept the Aquarius to dock in its ports. Malta too, has refused, and the vessel was eventually invited by Spain to dock in Valencia.
A German government spokeswoman on Sunday said: “Germany is ready to accept 50 people in this case.” Malta had initially rejected mounted pressure to open its borders, but later said it would accept 50 migrants too.
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is leading a high-profile campaign to ban human trafficking rescue ships from Italian ports, said on Saturday that the migrants could be sent back to Libya. But the United Nations and EU have ruled that Libya is not safe, and according to international law, migrants cannot be returned to a place where their lives are in danger.
The boat carrying the contested 450 migrants, is now in Maltese-competence waters. Salvini said on Friday “a boat with 450 clandestines aboard has since this morning been in waters under the competence of Malta, which has said it will intervene. A few hours later, however, no one has moved and the boat has started heading for Italy again.
“Let Malta, the migrant smugglers and the do-gooders of all of Italy and all the world know that this boat cannot and must not arrive in an Italian port. We’ve already done our bit, understood?”
He said: “I’m interior minister and I will do my utmost to defend the security of Italians, what I am doing is blocking departures, landings and deaths.”
Meanwhile, the crew of the Vos Thalassa, an oil-rig tug felt “seriously threatened” by the reaction of migrants when they were told they being taken back to Libya, sources at the Trapani prosecutor’s office said on Friday. The captain reportedly told prosecutors the migrants had surrounded the crew shouting “no Libya, Libya, yes Italy”.
As well as surrounding the crew, they allegedly “attacked” the first mate, sources said. The captain got in touch with the Rome port commander’s office, and authorities sent coast guard vessel Diciotti to offload the migrants.
The first questioning of the 67 migrants will take place this week, sources said. But Salvini has been sceptical of the alleged “facts” surrounding the decision to dock at an Italian harbour after the “attack”.
Some of the migrants told a UNICEF official on Friday that they were afraid of being returned to Libya but did not attack anyone on board the Vos Thalassa oilrig tug that had picked them up, contrary to reports.
“We didn’t attack anyone, there was 5-10 minutes of great confusion and fear, but we didn’t want to hurt anyone,” they told Italo-Egyptian UNICEF/Intersos officer Sahar Ibrahim on board the Diciotti.
“We didn’t want to go back to Libya: we were ready to dive into the sea and risk our lives rather than being returned to land”.