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Thank you President.
My first words have to be to thank you, President [of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Nechirvan] Barzani, for the warm welcome here in Erbil. I am pleased to conclude my visit to Iraq in this region, the Kurdistan region. It would be impossible to visit Iraq without paying strong attention to the Kurdistan region.
We have had a very productive discussion about many issues of mutual interest. The President has referred to them and I am most grateful, President, for the great insights that we have had during our discussion.
We know that the region has witnessed difficult times. Difficult times in the past and many challenges remain. I am here to express, on behalf of the European Union, our solidarity and support. The European Union is and will be still more a friend and a partner.
In these difficult times, the Kurdistan Region plays a crucial role in ensuring stability in Iraq and in the wider region. We, therefore, attach high importance to the relations between the leadership in Erbil and the Federal authorities in Baghdad.
We understand the difficulties and encourage all efforts to resolve existing differences and ensure good cooperation. And we are ready also to try to help on that.
In my discussion with the President I had the opportunity to acknowledge and commend the important contribution by the Kurdistan Regional Government in the efforts of the Global Coalition against Da’esh.
The important contribution of the Kurdistan people in terms of casualties suffered and the courage of your soldiers have been decisive in the fight against Da’esh.
We, in the European Union, remain firmly committed to this Global Coalition, to continue working with partners, as the job to end Da’esh is unfortunately not finished given the repeated attacks in the recent times.
In this context, I am pleased to announce that this summer we have expanded our European Union Advisory Mission in Iraq (EUAM) by opening a permanent presence here in Erbil. Our team is ready to provide advice and expertise on civilian security sector reform to the Kurdistan Regional Government, President. Talks have already started in the areas in which our support can be useful for you.
I also commended the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for the momentous generosity and responsibility you have shown giving refuge to so many persons internally displaced by Da’esh, among them many Christians and Yazidis. The figures, President, are impressive. You were able to receive in six months two million refugees, which represents one third of your population. I do not think there is another example of such a big effort receiving people and helping them. I know how much money and efforts it has cost and I have to praise you and the Kurdistan society for this extreme effort of solidarity. We tried to support you as much as we can. Since 2019, about 240,000 people in Iraq have benefitted from European Union management services in their camps. And we also support projects aiming to improve relationship between Internally Displaced Persons and local communities.
We also had the opportunity to talk and to exchange on regional issues of mutual interest and concern. This Region is located in a very complicated neighborhood. In that context, and bearing also in mind recent developments – I am thinking of Afghanistan – we discussed the migration file, very important for us and for all Member States of the European Union.
President Barzani, I enjoyed this fruitful exchange on human rights also. We agreed on the importance of freedom of expression and the media as part of a healthy democratic discourse, of a vibrant civil society, of fair trials fully in line with domestic laws and meeting international standards. This is the cornerstone of society: free media, fair judicial system.
These have been my messages during the lunch with President Barzani, and the political leadership of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. From now on, I foresee more constructive engagements with other interlocutors in Erbil today, and I hope I will have the possibility of visiting your fantastic Citadel that is a reminder that you are the cradle of humanity and this Citadel is something that every human being should know.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-210269