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I am glad we discuss again the issue of migration. I believe we have a serious responsibility as Europeans to look at the facts. Many times, in particular when electoral debates get heated or when political confrontations turn even more heated than electoral debates, we have the tendency to say a lot, without necessarily looking at the facts.
And I would start from two facts. First: that there are no shortcuts when we deal with the issue of migration. It is a global, massive phenomenon that does not relate only to the European Union. It is a global phenomenon, with more movements of people within continents like Africa or Asia than towards the European Union. There are no shortcuts, there is a complexity that needs to be faced as it is.
Second fact is that the measures we have finally, finally, started to put in place are starting to show the first results. I believe we must never forget the starting point, the fundamentals, and go back to basics, which is the human dimension of the phenomenon. Behind every number that you hear on TV, there are persons – men, women, children - people, with names, stories, hopes, fears, expectations and sometimes terrible stories to tell, when they manage to tell them.
The starting point for us is the continuing suffering and the death of them – men, women and children, who have left their homes in search for a better life. I have heard myself - and I believe many of you have done the same - stories from detention camps in Libya. When we speak to migrants or aid workers in Lampedusa, you hear things no one should hear and no one should live.
I have seen myself the images of men and women marked like animals by the human smugglers. We have to realise that this is a new form of slavery and we are facing with this a tragedy that none of us can underplay or ignore.
But at the same time, the work we have been doing over the last two years – and I say finally because we have come too late to act as Europeans on this issue – finally things we have put in place in the last two years are starting to bear fruits. Hundreds of thousands of people have been saved from death.
Let me be clear: even one who is not saved is too much, even one. But it is a positive the fact that we start to see the results of some policies that we have finally started to put in place and that are starting to save lives and protect rights.
Thousands have received food and medicines, thanks to our cooperation with the UN agencies and, first of all, I would like to thank the IOM [International Organisation for Migration] and the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] for the work they have started to do with us. They have always been doing this work, but we have developed a new partnership with them, reinforcing their work, providing political support, financial resources, access in some places where they did not have access before. This partnership is for us the guiding line for our action.
Thousands were given the opportunity to go back home in a dignified voluntary way, and to begin a new life - thanks to the European Union. We have, I believe, a responsibility to also look at these stories, and continue with more determination on this path that we are finally starting to walk.
There has been a considerable reduction in the number of people crossing the Mediterranean and the desert. The number of migrants risking their life in the Central Mediterranean has gone down by 17% compared to last year. The number of people crossing through Niger has dropped, from over 330,000 in 2016, to less than 40,000 so far in 2017.
These trends reflect the work we have done over the last year and more recently together with Member States, International Organisations and in line with the Migration Compacts and the Action Plan on measures to support Italy.
Dialogue with our partners, in Africa and beyond, is progressing fast and well. This year alone some 4,000 people returned voluntarily from Niger. The number of people returning from Libya has almost tripled, from 2,500 last year to over 7,000 this year up to now.
Reducing the number of crossings goes hand-in-hand for us with a renewed effort to fight effectively against smuggling and trafficking - fighting the business model, fighting the forms of organised crime that ranges the slavery in new forms.
[EUNAVFOR MED] Operation Sophia continues at sea its anti-smuggling operations and the training and capacity building of the Libyan Coastguard. Before the summer, the Council amended the mandate of [EUNAVFOR MED] Operation Sophia to also set up a monitoring mechanism of trainees, so that we can ensure the long-term efficiency of the training of the Libyan coast guard, monitoring the way in which they operate after we have trained them. This is essential not only in terms of efficiency, of the control of the seas in terms of anti-smuggling activities, this is also a fundamental element for us to control the respect of human rights that are part of the training of the Libyan Coastguard and that we want to see fully implemented.
As for Libya's borders, our border assistance mission [EU Border Assistance Mission in Libya] is planning for a possible training and advisory mission inside the country. Our engagement with the Libyan authorities is increasing, already, particularly on border management, law enforcement and in support of the criminal justice system. Most recently, we have launched a €46 million program to help manage the southern border of Libya, run together with the Italian Ministry of Interior.
In the south of Libya, we are present - as you might know - with three European Union missions and operation in the Sahel and with our support for the creation of a G5 Sahel Joint Force. We already signed a contract worth €50 million, just two months after our partners in the G5 Sahel [Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad] countries have asked for support, establishing for the first time ever a joint force among them to better control a territory that is a very difficult territory to control – desert, long borders – with the exact aim of fighting and preventing terrorism and radicalisation, but also smuggling and trafficking of all kinds, including the links between human smuggling and trafficking, arms trafficking, drug trafficking.
We know very well that there are monetary connections there that need to be broken and they can be better broken by the local actors who know the territory, know the people, know the economies, know the communities. Our work is to support them doing this difficult work for their own sake and also for the sake of those who put their lives in the hands of criminal organisations.
In parallel, European Union agencies, such as Europol and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency have greatly strengthened their capacity and improved their cooperation with our military missions and operations.
In Niger alone, 101 alleged smugglers have been brought before court, 79 more have been arrested and 74 vehicles and motorcycles have been confiscated. This is the result of the work of our joint investigation teams, together with our EUCAP [Sahel Niger] mission and the authorities of Niger. This is the partnership approach: defining the needs; working with the local authorities; setting the highest possible standards when it comes to human rights protection and putting the right resources at the disposal of those who know the local situation better.
An initial success story that we now want to replicate at regional level, linking up countries of origin, transit and destination with the support of these EU agencies - and yet our commitment goes well beyond border management.
I believe that the time when we had the illusion of managing migration flows only through border management is gone. We have now finally understood, not only that we need to act as Europeans, all together, but also that we need to act on what we all usually define as the root causes: poverty, climate change, lack of democratic spaces, violations of human rights, opportunities for life.
With our Migration Compacts, we are discussing directly with our partners in Africa - governments but also local authorities, civil society organisations, international agencies and NGOs that are present on the ground - on how best to invest in the sustainable development of these countries, of these communities. Because in one single country, you can have areas where the support in this respect is not particularly needed, but maybe few kilometres away from there, you have a community that is completely exposed to the trafficking and the smuggling. So you need to diversify the approach, developing a partnership that is oriented to deliver results on the ground.
The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, working with this approach, has already mobilised almost €2 billion, and our investments are meant - first and foremost - to create jobs, create skills, create better security conditions for growth. I can share with you the story that maybe I told you before. First time I visited Agadez, you land in an airport that is closed now – Agadez, the main route into Libya in the north of Niger, in the middle of the desert, a beautiful place. You land in an airport that now is basically closed, and the first thing you hear from the local community is: here we have always welcomed tourists, the security situation deteriorated, the terrorist threat increased, tourists are not coming anymore, the economy reconverted on the smuggling and the trafficking.
So, if you want to develop alternative economies, to offer alternatives to the youth of these communities, to stop the criminal organisations and to invest in sustainable good economies, you need also to work on the security side of the territory. Otherwise, a normal strong, healthy economy would have more difficulties to take place. This is also a way of addressing the root causes of the migratory flows, as well as it is – and I mentioned here many times, I think I have the full support of this hemicycle on this – our constant and determined work on climate change. So many people leave their communities because of the consequences of climate change, especially in the areas of the desert.
The External Investment Plan on which this Parliament has worked so well - and I would like to thank here the three committees that have worked in a really remarkable way, jointly, and I know that many were sceptical about three committees working together on such a complicated measure. The External Investment Plan is now ready, and will mobilise unprecedented levels of private resources in the most fragile areas of Africa and our region with the objective of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. At the end of the day the two agendas coincide, because if we had the Sustainable Development Goals fully implemented, you would also have a clear impact on the migratory flows. No one invest as much as we do in Africa. I know that some argue about the need of a Marshall Plan for Africa. I often mention the amount of Euros the European Union and its Member States invest in different forms – from development, to humanitarian, to security - in Africa: that is €20 billion every year.
The External Investment Plan is going to mobilise even more, aiming at raising €44 billion in private investments. We definitely need to use this money in a sense of partnership with our African friends and I believe the next EU-African Union Summit in Abidjan, at the end of November will be exactly this: moving from the concept of aid to the concept of partnership, working together, facing together common challenges and taking advantage together of common opportunities. And also working together on common issues we have close to our heart: multilateralism, a certain way to understand security and peace, climate change, the multilateral agenda.
While we have made initial steps forward that we need to recognise on migration, I think we have to keep in mind very well that we still have a very long and a very difficult way to go. I said at the beginning: there is no shortcut. We have internal contradictions in the European Union and I am sure you will hear more from President [of the European Commission, Jean-Claude] Juncker about this tomorrow. It is not my file.
But it is important that we never close our eyes to the unacceptable conditions that so many human beings are still facing on the route. Let me start from the detention centres in Libya. As you know, I don't hide the difficult topics, on the contrary. And let me tell you - it is exactly because I heard the stories of those who were escaping from that detention centres and arrived in Lampedusa that I keep a constant eye on how we can better protect and save lives. If you hear those stories once, you don't forget them. Our line here is clear: detention conditions at the moment fail to meet any basic condition of decency. The detention centres in the current forum should be closed. This is something we keep discussing in all our meetings with the Libyan authorities. As long as those centres do exist inside Libya, we are working with our international partners on the ground to guarantee that they have access to the detention centres - a very difficult discussion to have and a very difficult thing to do, given the security conditions inside Libya- with the aim of improving the living conditions of the people who are currently in the centres. And I would like to thank here the courage, the determination of the IOM, the UNHCR, UNICEF, of their staff for the incredible work they have started to do.
They have now developed a work inside Libya and that is the result of a common work we have started. We are supporting their work inside Libya financially, politically, logistically whenever we can, exactly to that purpose, exactly because we see that things are unacceptable in these centres. But, still, too little international staff is currently present in Libya and we do want to see an increased international presence in the very short-term. I will personally stress this point once again during my meetings in New York next week.
While the humanitarian conditions of detention are our top concern, second comes the need to provide durable solutions to the people stuck inside Libya. Because we have to realise that if the detention centres were going to be closed tomorrow - and, as I said, we believe that under the current conditions we see in the detention centres, they should be closed or the conditions should be radically changed. But if they were to be closed tomorrow thousands, thousands of people, would be trapped and lost in a country that is in difficult security conditions and where they do not want to stay. So when I say there is a complexity of the phenomenon that needs to be tackled seriously, with no shortcuts, that is what I am talking about. And this is why we have chosen to invest in our partnership with the international organisations that have the knowledge and the highest international standards for human rights, to help us tackling this issue - us and our partners, the authorities of - in this case - Libya, but also this is also true for other countries.
So we need to be ready to offer two clear paths here: for those in need of international protection, we need safe and legal avenues also to Europe. And this is a debate that is a difficult debate inside our own Member States, in our national parliaments, and probably also in this parliament, you know very well. Ánd let me stress this: those in need of protection need to have safe, legal avenues also to Europe. Second: we need to offer those who are not in need of international protection a dignified safe way to go back home and restart a life in a community that has probably invested everything they had to send them away, to look for a better future and send back remittances. Going back means being accompanied back, and this is where we also come in. We follow the persons all along the way to offer ways to restart a life, small businesses, a different kind of future, once people are going back.
Last December we started a programme with the IOM that is showing first positive results. We count to offer a safe way out to over 10 000 people by the end of the year from Libya. Last but not least, we need to provide an alternative to local communities that rely on smuggling for their daily subsistence. I can think here of the many communities - I was mentioning one just a few minutes ago of northern Niger or southern Libya. In this field we have launched massive investments to create jobs and provide training. But as I said this is a work that we need to do together with the local communities, together with the local authorities and guaranteeing, at the same time, support for a better security environment in the region. Ultimately I think we can summarise this approach into one sentence: we need to replace the illegal economy of human trafficking and smuggling, the new slavery, with the regular system of opportunities and channels to safely reach Europe, and elsewhere, for those in need. Remembering one important thing that I know is very unpopular in our political domestic debates, but it is the reality of our economy: if migrants - regular migrants - in Europe would disappear tomorrow morning, entire sectors of our economies would collapse. It is something to keep in the back of our minds. It is clear that the European Union cannot do this all alone. First of all, we need to have the entire European Union backing this approach.
We need consistency and coherence. We need Member States to invest in this approach, consistently and with coherence. I was glad to see that many of them are realising now how important it is to invest in these partnerships. And we have to build global alliances to manage this phenomenon. One year ago, two years ago, it was all about the European crisis on migration. I think that today we have managed - again, finally, and we are starting to see the results - but we have managed to put in place some elements of an intelligent policy based on partnership that our African partners recognise as useful, that our international partners starting from IOM, UNHCR and the UN system, recognise as right. We need to increase the work on the Global Compacts for migration and for refugees. Next year we will have an important process leading to this in the UN system. The European Union, I believe, has the responsibility to build this partnership approach, based especially on our EU-African partnership we have developed over the last year and that we will relaunch even more strongly at the Summit in Abidjan.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I143186