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Thank you Mme President.
For this debate I am pleased to be joined by Commissioner [Dimitri] Avramopoulos. We were asked to cover both, the external side of this situation and the internal work of the European Union - and obviously Commissioner [Dimitri] Avramopoulos has the responsibility over our internal work on migration. He will complement my introduction and he will stay for the conclusions as well.
We have all seen the images on CNN coming from the detention centres in Libya. Unfortunately, what the media reported is not new. We have discussed this in this hemicycle several times and this is not the first time I tell you. Personally, I first heard the stories about the detention centres and the unthinkable violations of human rights a few years ago, in Lampedusa. And I was surprised that the rest of the world was not strongly reacting to stories that were well known, not since couple of weeks ago, but since years. I heard them from people who had been tortured, or had lost their loved ones. I heard them from NGOs, from doctors and humanitarian workers who had been in those centres. Some of you have seen the movie Fuocoammare that was projected also in the European Parliament in Brussels. I have heard those stories because they are told and they are shown in a movie. So nothing new, unfortunately. But let me tell you what we did after we first heard those stories - not 2 weeks ago, but years ago. Personally I would say it was still too late, because the European Union should have acted even before. But since now 2 or 3 years we have decided to act in a situation that was not easy. Well before the media started to report on the situation in Libya, the European Union started to act.
How? We engaged with the United Nations and in particular with the International Organisation for Migration, to provide an alternative to migrants stranded in the country.
I have said many times that our goal is to close the detention centres. And I remember very well having said this in this hemicycle a couple of months ago. We have worked exactly to do so. But this cannot be done overnight. It is now one year that we work with the IOM and the UNHCR supporting the work inside Libya, which is the only way to address the situation. We need to give these people the opportunity to leave Libya - safely - towards a better life or - I would rather say - towards “a life”, because in the detention centres you cannot call it “life”.
And thanks to our work, to the work of the European Union, we have assisted over 15,000 migrants, who were trapped in Libya just in this year of work. They now not only have been able to go back home - with assistance of voluntary returns by us and practically, operationally done by the IOM - but to start a new life.
I give you one example. I was told the story of a group of ten young men from the Gambia, who went home from Libya thanks to our support. With our funds, they bought a small refrigerated truck, and they are using it to deliver fish around their country. This is just one little story, one good example out of thousands good stories of voluntary and sustainable returns. And it is with stories like that, that we show also to local communities that embarking on a dangerous journey is not only a risk, it is extremely dangerous, and you might end up in a worse place than the one you have left. These are the kind of stories that, I think, we need to share and we need to tell.
We believe this is the right way to do things – humane, sustainable, with the right international standards, in cooperation with the UNHCR and the IOM.
Today, new partners are finally joining our work. The Summit between the European Union and the African Union, 10 days ago in Abidjan, has been a turning point. Let me say it has been a turning point not only on this, but it has been a key political summit for EU-African Union partnership. But this is not the issue we are discussing tonight. Our African partners on this issue have realized that it was time to engage seriously. I believe our African partners have had enough of seeing their brothers and sisters dying in detentions centres or along the routes in the desert. They want to stop it and to stop the criminal networks that are making money out of death and slavery.
We have set up a Joint Task Force with the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations, precisely to address the situation of migrants inside Libya. And the results, already in these first ten days, are quite impressive.
Right after we did that, in just 9 days, we have assisted almost 2,000 migrants in going back home from Libya voluntarily with the assistance of the IOM. There is new awareness, and a new determination to act.
Thanks to this, we now aim at transferring a further 15,000 people who are currently in the detention centres. This would allow us to empty the current population in detention centres in the next few months. This is feasible. We have already assisted 15,000 – 2,000 of which in the last 9 days - and we are aiming at transferring another 15,000 in the next couple of months with the practical work of the IOM and the co-operation of the African Union.
But, this is not enough. For some people, going back home is not an option, because of war or persecution. So for those who have the right to international protection, we need to open new avenues to come to Europe or to other safe places.
The European Commission has proposed to welcome 50,000 people in need of international protection. And we have just launched a new programme with the UNHCR, called the emergency transit mechanism. And the first transfers have already taken place, so that those who have the right to receive asylum can come safely to Europe instead of risking their lives.
Is it enough? Clearly, it is not. And it is frustrating - every single person we do not manage to reach in every single place we do not manage to go. And you know the situation on the ground Libya: It is not easy for the IOM or the UNHCR or the NGOS to even go around or to get access. Clearly it is not sufficient, not enough yet and we need to continue working together including with the Libyan authorities.
We need to overcome – once and for all – the system of systematic detention. We must allow the complete and proper registration of migrants, and prosecute the criminal groups who have smuggled and enslaved.
I discussed this with President [of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord of Libya] Sarraj this morning to prepare together the first meeting of this task force - made up of the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations - that I called for at political level on Thursday morning in Brussels. We will have this first operational meeting at the political level, to accelerate our common work in Libya but also beyond Libya, because the situation further down south along the route is not at all a rosy one. We, first of all the European Union, are working to put an end to death and exploitation, to reduce the risky journeys, to save lives at sea and in the desert, and to provide international protection to those who need it.
We are also working, hand in hand with the United Nations, to make progress in the political process in Libya. Let me conclude with one word on this before I give the floor to [EU] Commissioner [Dimitris] Avramopoulos to complete my remarks. The political process in Libya is first and foremost for the benefit of Libyans. And we tend sometimes - with the European lenses - to forget, that Libya is not just a place where migrants are passing through or are detained. Libya is a country that has gone through very difficult times and is still in a very difficult situation. And the Libyans themselves need to see our political support to overcome the current situation.
But, obviously, improved governance will also help address the migration challenge. The EU is actively supporting the UN action plan at every stage. I met with President [of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord of Libya, Fayez Al-] Sarraj in Abidjan and with the UN Special Representative Ghassan Salamé in Rome 10 days ago. While there is not much progress to report, there is some movement in the right direction. But it is fragile, and we need to stay resolute, particularly to support the Libya Political Agreement beyond the deadline of 17 December.
This job, it is clear, will not be done in a day. There will be bumps on the road and we will need long-term engagement. But we are on the right path. We are on the only possible path to manage migration in more humane and sustainable way. And finally – finally! - we are not alone. We continue to work with all our determination together with the African Union and the United Nations, in particular the IOM [International Organization for Migration] and the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].