Prague, Czech Republic – Prime Minister Andrej Babis announced the Czech Republic would take part to the construction of a centre for orphans in Syria.
Speaking to Czech Television after a meeting with representatives from the Syrian branch of the Red Crescent, including its president Khaled Hloubati, the Prime Minister said that the Czech Republic planned to build an orphanage in Damascus, Syria’s capital, with a capacity to host up to 50 orphans, although it may be expanded later on.
A special foundation will be set up to that effect and will aim to receive additional funding from donors. Located on a surface of roughly 20.000 m², the site should include housing, a school and a refectory, according to preliminary information from Radio Praha. Along with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, a humanitarian aid NGO established since 1946, Syrian companies should also reportedly take part to the funding of the project.
According to recent reports, the war in Syria has claimed more than 360.000 lives, including 20.000 children, since 2011.
Last year, Czech Christian Democratic MEP Michaela Šojdrová suggested the Czech Republic should take in 50 Syrian orphans stranded in Greece. At the time, Czech PM Andrej Babis, who’s facing several domestic and European investigations for alleged misuse of EU funds and conflict of interest, called this proposal nonsensical: “Why should we accept them? We also have orphans in the Czech Republic who we must be preparing for life. I went into politics mainly to look after Czech citizens. Why should we be caring for Syrian orphans?”, M. Babis said in an interview last September.
Along with its allies from the Visegrad Group, with whom it shares a strong anti-refugee rhetoric, the Czech Republic has consistently refused to accept refugees from African or Middle-Eastern countries as part of any burden-sharing scheme and has been a vocal opponent of the EU’s relocation quotas. According to M. Babis, the EU should concentrate its efforts on the economic development of home countries in Africa and the Middle-East instead of encouraging “economic migrants” to come to Europe for “asylum-shopping”. Although the Czech government’s strict immigration policy towards third-country nationals can rely on the support from a wide part of the Czech electorate, the Prime Minister’s hard-line stance on immigration has also been widely criticized: “He has evidently moved from what was a quite reasonable, carefully considered position – rejecting EU quotas and combating illegal migration – to one where he is saying this country will not even consider a request to grant asylum or temporary protection to people from war-torn Syria”, said Czech MEP Pavel Telička.
“We don’t want to live in Africa or the Middle East”, Andrej Babis also said last year, once again sparking outrage, as commentators point to growing similarities between his and Viktor Orban’s rhetoric as regards to migration and the European Union.