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Mr President, Friends,
The upcoming informal Summit we will have in Malta starting Friday will be for us I believe an opportunity to show that an efficient and at the same time human management of migration is possible – and is a must. If we work together both as Europeans in solidarity and in partnership with our friends, countries of origin and of transit.
We can and we must repeat once again, as we did here just one hour ago, that refugees must be welcome. This is a strong position that the European Union has and will continue to have. And at the same time, without any contradiction, on the contrary and with some complementarity, we can and must say that the pain and the deaths caused by smugglers have to be stopped. I have seen with my own eyes, people that have managed to survive, stories that nobody should not only live, but also even listen to.
And I think it is first and foremost a humanitarian duty not only to save lives, but also to protect the lives of the people that are migrating.
As you know very well, in the last two years we have been working literally day and night to reduce human suffering, first and foremost, to reduce the loss of lives on the different routes leading to Europe. In the Mediterranean Sea, for sure, but also in the places were the loss of lives and the violation of human rights are less evident to the cameras of our TV stations, in particular in the desert. In the Central Mediterranean our Operation Sophia alone saved last year more than 32,000 people, and each and every one of them, for me, is a precious result of a work that finally we are doing as European Union.
We apprehended also more than 100 smugglers that now are in the hands of justice.
Our migration compacts with five African countries have started to substantially reduce the irregular flows: for instance, the number of people crossing irregularly from Niger into Libya has decreased to its lowest level in years. We see that our action is delivering in real terms, it is starting to deliver in real terms. With always this first concern, which is: human lives – saving them and protecting them.
The report adopted yesterday by AFET and DEVE on the role of our external action on addressing refugees’ and migrants’ movements, encourages me to keep on this path of closer cooperation with third countries, including through regular channels for entering into the European Union.
And here, on this specific point, I would ask for your support. Because among the commitments the European Union took with our partners at the Valetta summit last year was also to work more on regular channels for migration. The more we work to prevent irregular flows, the more we have to offer regular channels. And we all know very well that this is a difficult debate in each and every Member State and also in this European Parliament.
It is not by chance that, back in December, the Commission increased the resources for different mobility opportunities. And this is just the beginning.
Still, last year we faced more than 4,500 deaths at sea in the Central Mediterranean. And believe me I wish we could name each and every one of them. Because as long as we refer to numbers, it is much easier to forget them or to consider this as a phenomenon. While each and every of these people have a history, a story, a name and a future – should have a future. Yet, at times, we don’t even have their names.
This is why we need to do more. We all need to do more. In the European Union, in the spirit of solidarity among Europeans, and also with our partners, that also have to take some of the ownership of the management of this problem. When we see people dying in the desert or close to the Libyan coast, we have to discuss and help our partners to do their part to save lives and to make sure that the protection of human beings and their human rights is fully taken on board. I'll come to that in a minute.
We all need to do more, first to end the suffering and to better manage human mobility. Last week I presented a package of additional measures worth 200 million euros. That will feed into the discussions at the Malta Summit the day after tomorrow.
Of course, migration has always existed. I have been even accused many times for the fact that I am constantly pointing to the fact that first, migration used to be since a couple of decades ago from Europe to the rest of the world. Second, that if we had to live without migrants in all our societies and all our economies, we would suffer a lot of negative consequences. Imagine the cost of non-migration for our European economies and you will realise that we are not talking about a bad phenomenon; we are talking about a phenomenon that needs to be managed. First of all, as I said, to protect human beings.
We all know that there is no easy way to stop the suffering and manage better the phenomenon. We know very well that the real solution implies first of all the economic development of Africa and also the democratic development of Africa. Here, our daily work is going on – with the compacts with the 5 priority countries, with the External Investment Plan, with the Trust Funds and with the overall work we are doing in partnership in particular with Africa. We are also working – and I know Commissioner Mimica will be joining us for the following debates, also in the framework of our cooperation and partnership with the African Union and the different countries in Africa, but also with the civil society and the people in Africa. Because we know well that the key to development is not only economy, it's also society and a civil space for Africans to find their place and their way.
But, apart from that, we have also now to focus on what kind of quantitative and qualitative leap in our joint work for immediate steps we can take together and with our partners.
So I will name three proposals that will be on the table of the Malta Summit on Friday and that I believe can be first of all fully in line with the approach of partnership we have taken on the central Mediterranean routes and the African partnership from the beginning last year. And be a clear change, a clear step forward in having a more effective result.
First, we want to increase the training of the Libyan coast guard. I am sure many of you remember a meeting we had here in this building a few months ago, with the cast and the director of Fuocammare, the documentary film that now is nominated for an Academy Award.
They told us one simple thing among many others: do something for the Libyan territorial waters, they told us. Because before we were seeing people dying close to Lampedusa, in international waters, now we are seeing people dying in the Libyan territorial waters. And we cannot act inside the Libyan territorial waters – this is a Libyan responsibility. But we can help, we can train and support the Libyan authorities in this work. This will be one of the things I will discuss tomorrow with Prime Minister al Sarraj; not the only one, I will come to that in a minute.
Operation Sophia launched, just a few days ago, the second package of training for a carefully vetted group of officials from the Libyan coast guard and navy. And we now propose to increase the training even more substantially, including – and this is a very important point for me – including on Human Rights and Women's Rights and the respect of international standards and obligations.
Second, we propose to step up our efforts on the Southern borders of Libya. Before the flows go inside a country that is by definition a difficult country to operate in. We have already started to facilitate a common approach between Libya, Chad and Niger, in particular. Managing their common border is an interest they share – also for security reasons. Because we see us Europeans, our main focus is always here I see a lot of attention in that, maybe not in this hemicycle, but for sure in our public opinions, on the migration flows that go through Libya towards Europe.
But there is also a flow of a different kind that goes from Libya to the south, to the Sahel and possibly connecting with the Lake Chad region and possibly with Boko Haram. So there is a security challenge there also to control the border south of Libya in a more effective way. So managing this border is their common interest, as neighbours, but it is also our interest as Europeans.
We are acting in the region with three missions and operations: we are already training local security forces, including on the respect of human rights. I stress this, because for me this is a key component of all the training we do to local forces.
And these are powerful tools, and we can make them even more powerful, improving cooperation among all actors in the region. And taking a regional approach, including working with the African Union and its newly elected leadership as we have the new African Union Commission President who was the Foreign Minister of Chad.
Third, we will increase our support – at least this is my proposal – to the International Organisation for Migration and the UNHCR. For me this is key. Because you can act north at sea, you can act south in the Sahel, but the presence you have already now in Libya is there and will not disappear by itself. And we all know very well the human rights angle of this is extremely serious. So we have to find a way of addressing the dramatic situation of stranded migrants inside Libya in a very challenging security situation.
I have met in recent weeks both Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the General Director of the IOM, William Lacy Swing: together we discussed how the European Union can increase its support to the IOM and the UNHCR, in order for them to work more and better inside Libya. And namely in the places where migrants are.
Cooperation with these two organisations for me is the best possible way to guarantee the protection of human rights for migrants inside the country.
A first project for 20 Million euros was adopted in December under the Trust Fund for Africa: it will allow IOM to offer alternatives to a first group of 5000 stranded migrants, and take action to improve the dramatic conditions in the detention centres.
I believe that this will be really a key element of our policy, where we will need to work in a team: UNHCR, IOM and the European Union together with the Libyan authorities, trying to create the conditions for this to work.
All these actions are designed having in mind the bigger picture. It's not the issue of today's debate, but I think it is a must to keep clearly in might that the key element of our work is supporting peace and reconciliation in Libya. Again, as I said, this is not the issue for this debate, but this is my main work. And our work with Libya goes far beyond the issue of managing migration. I know this is the priority for political parties, governments and public opinions in Europe. But believe me when I tell you that the main point for us is working on finding a political solution for the crisis in Libya. This is what I have discussed with Martin Kobler, the UN Special Envoy, just days ago here in Brussels, and again, this will be the main point I will discuss tomorrow with Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj here in Brussels. And again, by the way, this is also what we will be discussing with the Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.
But while we keep working to reach a political solution for Libya, there is much we can do in the meantime. Working with the Libyan coast guard and navy, working with the mayors and the local authorities, working with Libya’s neighbours, not only east and west, but also south, as a Libyan neighbour ourselves, because the European Union is a neighbour to Libya.
And with respect, trying to help and trying to focus on, as I said, a political solution that can bring the country to a stable democracy and uniting the country more than it is now.
We will continue to work in partnership and along the lines we defined together in Valletta last year, in partnership with our friends, not only authorities, but also civil society organisations, and in partnership with the international organisations and the UN-system, with which we are in this. In a week time, we will have in Malta the first stocktaking exercise of the Valletta summit Action Plan. Next week, I will have the pleasure of opening it with the Maltese Foreign Minister, to see with our African partners but also with the partners of the northern part of Africa where we are on the implementation of the Action Plan and what is the way forward in a sense of partnership.
We have finally as Europeans, I believe, started to do our part, we start to see some results. I mentioned the tens of thousands of lives saved, finally, but still, even if it was one person only dying at sea or in the desert, whether we see it or we don't see it, this is a responsibility and a problem that we are ready to try to solve. But again, it is not only a European responsibility; it is also a responsibility we have to share with our African partners and in this particular case also with our Libyan partners.
Now I hope, I believe Heads of State and Government in Malta on Friday will commit even more strongly to save lives, both at sea and in the desert, to fight the smugglers and to protect the dignity of all human beings. And this also means also being true to our values which links to the previous debate we had in this room.
I thank you very much.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I132991