Remarks by Commissioner Avramopoulos at the EP Plenary Session on the humanitarian emergencies in the Mediterranean and solidarity in the EU, Strasbourg 13/6/2018

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14 Jun 2018
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos

Opening Remarks


Dear Colleagues,

The events of the last days concerning the Aquarius boat remind us of the gravity of the migratory challenge in the Central Mediterranean and of its humanitarian implications.

We cannot turn our eyes off what is happening, even after 3 years of progress in managing flows.

We cannot afford to become complacent.

What matters most is that people in a desperate situation were saved and helped.

That is what counts ultimately, and always.

I want to be clear that I will not enter into any blame-game today.

Everybody needs to take their responsibilities and play their role in solidarity.

In the case of the Aquarius boat, I welcome that a solution was found.  

I commend the generosity of the Spanish government.

I would also like to commend Italy and many other Member States that are upholding our values and taking up their share of European responsibility for many years now.

We should not lose sight of the efforts these Member States have done in the past and continue to do so.

Indeed, while the Aquarius will disembark in Spain, more than 900 people were disembarked this morning in Catania.

So Italy continues to take up its responsibility.

Our central objective is – and I think we all agree on this – to avoid in the first place that people fleeing from poverty, persecution or violence put their lives at risks embarking in perilous journeys.

It puts people's lives at risk.

It creates tensions within our societies as shown by the strong reactions in the social media.

To this end, our action is much more effective if it starts before they embark on these journeys – on the other side of the Mediterranean.

On this, we have already achieved results and we have to continue strengthening our cooperation with countries of origin and transit to address root causes of migration and avoid that people fall in the hands of smugglers' networks.

Let me give you few examples.

Thank to our good cooperation with IOM and UNHCR, we have helped more than 25000 migrants to leave Libya and voluntarily return to their countries of origin.

We have supported the evacuation of 1,474 migrants in need of international protection from Libya to other countries, including Niger, in view of their resettlement as refugees.

Resettlement should be the normal way to Europe for those who need protection.

Finally, we continue training the staff of the Libyan Coastguard to enhance its capacity to carry out searches and rescue operations at sea, which has so far resulted in 16,000 migrants rescued.

We are strengthening our monitoring after training, to ensure full respect of human rights.

We also support financially Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia to better control their borders and fight migrants' smuggling.

Protecting the external borders is essential on both sides of the Mediterranean.

Protecting our European external borders is and will remain among our top priorities.

We have made significant progress since the establishment of the European Border and Coast Guards but we need to continue.

We proposed yesterday to almost triple funding for migration and border management: to €34.9 billion for 2021-2027, compared to €13 billion in the previous period.

This comprehensive approach delivers results.The peak of arrivals over the past few days should not overshadow the progress that we have achieved to significantly reduce the migratory pressure in Italy.

This year, arrivals to Italy have dropped by 78% compared to last year. So far 13 000 arrived this year compared to 90 000 last year.

But when migrants engage in perilous journey in the Mediterranean, our humanitarian imperatives to help people in distress should come first.

To truly prevent situations such as the Aquarius, we cannot be satisfied with ad-hoc solidarity.

We need a comprehensive approach and  rules to ensure that the responsibility of assisting migrants is not on the shoulders of just a few Member States.

And that the crisis prevention is as important as the crisis management.

The Commission has used, and will continue to facilitate an open and frank dialogue and to find durable solutions based on solidarity and responsibility. 

Migration is definitely not a challenge for one or a handful of Member States but for the European Union as a whole and all its Member States.

Our migration policy can only succeed if we work together in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility and sincere cooperation and trust, not if each country proceeds with unilateral and uncoordinated initiatives, or feels authorised to only look at its own national situation and interests.

We are therefore looking forward to continuing working closely with Italy and the new Italian government to continue to manage migration flows on the Central Mediterranean route.

But as I said before: this is not just an Italian issue.

We expect all the Member States to join forces in sharing the solidarity and responsibility and addressing this truly common challenge.

This is the essence of our all our efforts – whether it is saving lives in the Mediterranean, or better protecting our shared external borders, or coming to an agreement on a reformed Common European asylum system as part of the comprehensive approach on managing migration better.

Only united we will stand.

It is very important for us to understand that it is part of the legacy of this Parliament, of this Commission, for the years to come.  

Because migration will be with us for many decades ahead. We have to be better prepared, more united and resolved to give solutions having always as priority how to save lives and protect the ones who are in need of genuine protection.

Closing remarks


Dear Members of the European Parliament,

I would like to thank you for a very lively debate on the migratory situation in the Mediterranean.

I take from this debate that we all share the same objectives.

There cannot be one answer. There is no single solution and we all know that.

No Member State can do this alone. It is impossible.

The only way is to adopt all missing elements and to implement our comprehensive migration policy.

This policy starts with the cooperation with third countries.

It continues with the protection of our common European external borders.

It is relying on a future-proof European Asylum system, based on solidarity and responsibility.

It is very much relying on effective return of people that have no right to stay in Europe.

It is completed by the creation of legal pathways to come to Europe, and of course by effective policies of integration for those legally living among us.

So we need to continue our common work and our joint efforts in all aspects, in parallel.

As regards some of the points you raised, Mr. Corao and many of his colleagues here, refer to the support to Italy. We have worked continuously and relentlessly over the past three years to ensure that much greater solidarity is shown facing to all Member States facing disproportionate migration pressure due to their geographical situation.

I want to commend the herculean efforts of Italy all these past years. The Commission has stood, and you all know that, and continues to stand by Italy politically, operationally and financially.

We have granted more than 653million euros to Italy under the EU Migration and Home Affairs Fund until now.

On top of that, we have offered 193million euros in emergency assistance. The European Borders and Coast Guards Agency currently deploys 260 experts under Joint Operation Themis.

80 asylum experts from Member States and interim staff are deployed to support the operational activities.

Europol guest experts are present in several hotspots.

12 963 persons in need of international protection were relocated.

We are also working closely with Italy to prevent the departures from the North of Africa.

We have invested 200million euros in Libya to assist migrants and 46million for border management.

We will also grant 25million euros for a project on border management for Tunisia.

As I said, this approach has brought results. Arrivals in Italy have decreased significantly. I look forward to work with the new Italian government to ensure that arrivals will decrease even further.

As I said in the beginning during my introductory remarks, I am not here to play any blame game. Anyway it doesn’t help.

The event of the Aquarius shows that we need structural solutions. And that solidarity cannot be an ad-hoc or one-off thing. This is the essence of our discussions on Dublin, but also on stronger external borders, on the cooperation with third countries and on our proposals today for more funding for migration and borders.

These are European challenges which require genuine European solutions. This is not the responsibility of Italy alone, or of Malta alone, or of Spain alone.

This is the responsibility of the European Union and its Member States as a whole.

Under these very pressing circumstances and given the experiences and the lessons we have learnt over the past few years, we should reiterate our determination.

To safeguard the principles and unity of Europe in a spirit of responsibility.

We should stand as one, guaranteeing a future-proof, balanced and fair European migration policy.

And all of us here have a great responsibility to show leadership, to ensure the unity and cohesion of our societies, avoiding divisive rhetorics.

Migration has become a challenge for our unity. It's on us to turn this into an opportunity, into a strong bond among EU institutions, Member States, and among our citizens.

Thank you very much for your attention. 

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