Dear Minister Soylu,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am sure you noticed from the very beginning that there are differences in the way we approach this issue. But this gathering is very important because we are here in order to find common routes forward to work together because migration, whether we want to admit it or not, has taken global dimensions, it has become a global issue and we can only address this issue together in unity and in solidarity.
Let me start by expressing the warmest thanks to Turkey, to President Erdogan himself and to Minister Soylu, for having organised this conference in the beautiful city of Istanbul: one of the oldest cities in the world, a place with an unparalleled cultural and historical heritage, a crossroad, where Europe and Asia have been meeting each other for the last millennia, and a melting pot of ideas, peoples and visions.
The embodiment of a truly diverse and transcontinental city, a city symbol of this era of globalism. For me it is an honour for me to be here once again and to address you all today, to discuss our Silk Route Partnership for Migration launched some years ago, as well as the challenges still lying in front of us.
Being so numerous here attests the fact that in our globalised world, human mobility, as many other aspects of our lives, can only be addressed effectively together.
No country can manage this alone. And I repeat no country can manage this alone. This is the first conclusion and the lesson we learnt in Europe. When five years ago Europe was taken by surprise and Member States were totally unprepared ,we had to start building our migration policy from scratch, from nothing. But definitely we are not where we were five years ago, we have done a lot and you are aware of what we have been doing in order to address this very important issue that will define the future of our world, also the future of our nations because it has become one of the top issues on the global political agenda, exploited by populists who are fostering and fuelling xenophobia which is against the values and the principles of our humanity. And the Secretary General of the United Nations was very clear before when he addressed this issue.
Building strong partnerships with countries of origin, transit and destination of migration has been a key feature of the European Union's migration policy from day one.
Our primary objective is to build an organised and sustainable management of human mobility, respectful of human rights, and inspired by the principles of solidarity, partnership, accountability and sharing of responsibility. This is the only way forward.
This explains the importance of our Partnership along the Silk Route, which allows us to work hand in hand and engage in a targeted and coordinated dialogue on migration and mobility between countries on the European and Asian continents. A partnership based on mutual respect and understanding.
The term Silk Route, of course, evokes the ancient trade route, which primarily carried goods, but also ideas and people, between civilisations. For centuries, this Route has been characterised by a variety of movements and mobility, for different reasons: People seeking to do trade and business, looking for opportunities to build a better life, or actually fleeing conflict and war.
In other words, migration has been and continues to be an integral part of this route. But not only of this route. In recent decades, migration has been on the rise globally. Some believed in the beginning that is was a problem of southern Europe but this was not the case. Very soon we all realised that it transcends borders and continents and you see what is happening right now not only in Europe but also in the United States, in Asia and everywhere in the world.
The past years have been especially challenging for all of us in this respect. We have encountered unprecedented migration and refugee crises, which deeply affected, first of all, the people on the move and their communities back home, but also the countries which were confronted with their transit or arrival.
And we must be aware that the geopolitical instabilities that lie at the origin of these movements still exist and we do not know for how long they may continue. This is why we must continue our joint work of preparation, coordination and mutual support, and further enhance our collective capacity to face these common challenges.
We can build on the important results we have already achieved together: The first one I would like to mention is the EU-Turkey Statement, an initiative, which the EU and Turkey have jointly taken in 2016. We all remember what the situation at that time was and where we stand now. I remember in the year 2015 several thousands crossings per day over the Aegean Sea were taking place; now the numbers have gone down to less than 100 persons daily, a manageable situation. Since then, this Statement has continued providing an important example of how close cooperation between true partners can bear very tangible results, in full respect of international law and human rights.
The essence of this cooperation lies not in the drop of irregular arrivals. It is not only about numbers. It lies in the generous hospitality of Turkey willing to host almost 4 million refugees – a choice which we cannot commend enough – and in the European Union supporting international organisations on the ground in doing so.
Together with Turkey, we have delivered on what is the most important: saving migrants’ lives, protecting refugees’ rights, preventing the use of irregular and dangerous migration channels, and fighting effectively against smugglers and traffickers.
Another example of cooperation I wish to mention is the growing and comprehensive engagement between the EU and Afghanistan. This has produced the signature, in 2016, of our Joint Way Forward and, in 2018, of the Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development.
This engagement is important for the stabilisation, reconstruction and prosperity of Afghanistan. It has also contributed to making progress towards a comprehensive and durable solution of the situation of the Afghan refugees dispersed in the neighbouring countries.
The EU is committed to continue supporting Afghanistan, and to facilitate the return and reintegration of its sons and daughters back home. At the same time, we are also working very closely with Pakistan and Iran. The EU assists and facilitates the social integration of the millions of Afghan refugees, whom they are hosting on their territories.
Pakistan and Iran are two countries, with which we are equally determined to deepen our dialogue and cooperation, at bilateral level, on migration and many other matters, building on the progress already made.
We intend to make a similar offer to another key partner country of the Silk Route: Iraq. We are already cooperating with Iraq and assisting its refugees and internally displaced people.
Following the recent entry into force of our Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, we want to also engage without delay in a bilateral dialogue aimed at establishing an operational cooperation in all aspect of migration management.
Finally, I want to also refer to our very constructive relation with our Bangladeshi partners, for the effective cooperation on migration management that we have established since 2017, and for the long-standing hospitality and efforts Bangladesh has been offering to the Rohingya refugee population, which we have been supporting at humanitarian and political level.
These few examples show that our cooperation is not limited to mere words, but is reflected in very concrete and tangible actions. We need to build on this.
I see the following areas where we need to enhance our actions and cooperation: further addressing the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement, more effectively managing our borders –and we have done a lot in the EU as you know by establishing the European Border and Coast Guard-, cooperating with all countries in order to better manage our borders, being even more relentless and uncompromising in our fight against all criminal transnational networks involved in migrant smuggling and all forms of illicit trafficking, the cooperation between EUROPOL and all countries has proven very effective on that; protecting more extensively the lives, the rights and the dignity of migrants and refugees, wherever they are; offering pathways for refugees’ resettlement, adopting a clear framework for legal migration, while ensuring more systematic and effective cooperation on return, readmission and reintegration of irregular migrants, in line with the established principles and international law obligations, as well as the agreed arrangements.
By sincerely working together in addressing all these challenges, I am sure we can manage to build a better organised, more sustainable and a fairer system for migration management in our neighbourhood and globally.
This will ultimately also strengthen overall stability in the region, which is a key prerequisite for attracting sustainable investment, for further facilitating people to people contacts, promoting economic ties and boosting prosperity and peace for all.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What the recent refugee crisis has taught us all, as I said in the beginning, is that no country can deal with such a crisis alone. No country can be ready to respond to the challenges of today and of tomorrow because we do not know what the future is holding for us without close cooperation with its partners at all levels and all relevant fora.
Countries that don’t chose this path will end up isolated. And this is also what the experience of the last few years has shown: that precisely and only by working together we did manage. The results are there. What matters now is that we continue, expand and enhance such efforts in order to build a common global architecture in managing migration. Because migration as a phenomenon is here to stay,whether we want to admit it or not. It will be there for many more decades. So one of the roles of conferences like this is to put the basis for our future global cooperation.
Our coming together here is an essential step – but it cannot just remain with words and pretty intentions. When we all leave this great city, Istanbul, at the end of this conference, we cannot leave behind our commitments and responsibilities.
Better managing migration will continue to be a global task for decades to come. The immediate “crisis” as such may be over, in some areas. But human mobility is the reality of today and of the future. We live in the era of human mobility.
Getting this right, for the long term, it is in the interest of our citizens, in the interest of our countries, the cohesion of our societies, and the wellbeing of all those on the move and the communities they leave behind.
Thank you for your attention.