Strasbourg, 13 March 2018
Check against delivery!
Thank you Mr President.
On the UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees, let me start with a good news, a good story for once; a little, big European achievement of the last few months. You might remember, last December I came to Strasbourg and here, in this hemicycle we talked about detention centres in Libya. I took in front of you, and most of all, in front of all those people who are suffering inside these detention centres in Libya, the commitment to bring back to their homes 15.000 migrants from within the detention centres to their countries or origin, in a safe manner with Assisted Voluntary Returns, made with our assistance, through the IOM [International Organisation for Migration].
At that moment we had just reached an unprecedented agreement between our European Union, the African Union, and the United Nations, in particular the United Nations' agencies for migrants and refugees – at our EU-Africa Union Summit in Abidjan. Thanks to this agreement, in the first two months of this year – so January and February - we managed to rescue and free more than 16.000 people from the camps in Libya. In two months, we managed to achieve more than in the previous year and already in 2017, the results were ten times better than the previous year.
Now, in the detention camps, there are still some 4.000 to 5.000 people. It is far too much and we are going to continue our work with the United Nations and with the African Union to empty the camps. We have managed to bring out from there 16.000 people in two months, I believe we can make it and empty them completely, within the, at maximum, coming next couple of months.
This has been possible for one reason: we joined forces – first of all within Europe, second with our African partners and friends, and on a global scale, within the UN system. I am glad to start with this positive note - while acknowledging that there is still work to be done -because sometimes we forget to focus on the achievements we managed to build. I think the achievements are important to lead us towards the solution.
This is obviously only one piece of the puzzle we are trying to put together. The work on safe and dignified returns goes together with saving lives and arresting human traffickers both at sea and at land, it goes together with our [Emergency] Trust Fund [for Africa] to tackle the root causes of migration, and with our new External Investment Fund to create jobs and growth in the most fragile parts of our region.
The challenge of human mobility in our century is huge, we have experienced it directly but continents like Africa experience it every day even more. But experience tells us that it is manageable. No country can manage this alone. But together we can set up a humane, dignified and secure mechanisms for governing human mobility.
This is the spirit of the New York Declaration that we approved two years ago: solidarity, shared responsibility, multilateralism and engagement. Around these four pillars, we have built a common ground. This should be also the spirit of the two Global Compacts on Refugees and Migrants.
It is not by standing aside or by pretending that we can put a wall between us and the rest of the world that we will shape common solutions. And we remain convinced that all states can benefit from closer international cooperation – be they countries of origin, transit or destination. Some countries are all three at the same times: they are at the same time a country of origin, transit and destination.
Work on both Global Compacts has now concluded the consultative phase; negotiations and formal consultations on the actual texts started last month.
I believe that this is a unique opportunity to bring forward the European vision on migration and bring at the global level the experiences, the lessons we have learnt and the partnerships we have built. A vision based on human rights, responsibility, and mutual solidarity. A vision where traffickers, smugglers and the connected criminal organisations find no place, where we reduce irregular migration and instead we have the courage to invest in more regular and safe channels for migrants.
To achieve it, we will need a strong UN coordination under the leadership of the IOM [International Organisation for Migration] and the UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency] under the respective compacts.
The first and second negotiating sessions in New York on the Global Compact on Migration are now behind us, showing a strong concordance of voices across the globe. There is still a lot of work to do, but there is a good basis to develop a common understanding on how to humanly and efficiently manage migration together, now and in the long term.
Also on the Global Compact for Refugees, formal consultations have started in Geneva. It is important to ensure a balanced and inclusive outcome for refugees and also for the host communities.
For the past 18 months, the European Union has established strong leadership in the process, thanks also to the partnerships we have developed in these years. Now with the withdrawal of the United States from the Compacts back in December, the Compacts need more than ever a strong and united Europe.
Let me say that I regret that one of our Member States has recently presented a position that is not in line with the position of the 27 other Member States. Here our common work, and your contribution as Parliament will be essential: because together we can push towards inclusive and balanced Compacts, to improve the lives of millions of people, to address the concerns of the European citizens and to turn migration from a common challenge into a shared opportunity for human development.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I152463