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Brussels, 8 April 2011
The European Commission's response to the migratory flows from North Africa
Recent events in North Africa have been a source of optimism for the democratic reforms taking place in many countries, most notably in Egypt and Tunisia, but also of grave concern in view of the violent conflict taking place in Libya and of the irregular migration flows originating from Tunisia. The conflict in Libya has led to a humanitarian crisis in this country and in its neighbouring countries. The European Union and its Member States have reacted swiftly and demonstrated their solidarity with the countries of the region, providing humanitarian support in the first phase and assistance for political and economic reforms immediately thereafter. The European Union has also acted quickly to help the most exposed Member States to cope with migratory pressures. Our response is comprehensive, encompassing all aspects of the crisis and it reflects the deep engagement both of the EU and its Member States.
Measures undertaken to respond to the humanitarian emergency
According to the latest official sources, around 430.000 persons have left Libya fleeing from the violence of the last weeks. The European Commission has been at the forefront of the international humanitarian response to this exodus through the mobilisation of a comprehensive range of measures.
The Commission reacted swiftly by mobilising from the outset its two main emergency instruments, namely the Civil Protection mechanism and humanitarian funding through ECHO. In addition, DG ECHO has mobilised a team of 16 field experts in humanitarian aid and civil protection, who are now deployed in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to monitor the situation, and work with the UN to assess the needs and facilitate the coordinated mobilisation of EU assistance (financial and in-kind).
The EU emergency help amounted to € 30 million. This has been allocated, on the one hand, to give a temporary shelter, finance the basic needs and facilitate the swift repatriation to their respective home countries of thousands of persons fleeing the conflict in Libya and receiving hospitality in transit camps located near the Libyan border. On the other hand, part of this aid is has been earmarked to finance the provision of humanitarian assistance in Libya.
Measures addressing the migration flows towards the European Union
Urgent measures already undertaken
The massive displacement of populations from several North African countries has been putting the protection and reception systems of some of the EU Member States, in particular in Italy and Malta, under increasing strain. The European Union has responded to these serious challenges in a rapid and effective manner with the aim of stabilizing the situation.
Frontex has deployed the Joint Operation EPN Hermes Extension 2011 to assist the Italian authorities in managing the influx of migrants from North Africa, most of whom have been arriving on the island of Lampedusa. This mission was launched on 20 February 2011, only four days after receiving the official request from the Italian authorities, a clear signal of solidarity between Member States. FRONTEX stands ready to continue the mission as long as it will be necessary, and to expand it, provided that Member States will make available the necessary staff, vessels and equipment. In view of the above the Commission is launching the necessary procedures for reinforcing the FRONTEX 2011 budget with an additional EUR 30 million.
Europol has also deployed a team of experts to Italy in order to help the national authorities to assist in detecting and preventing possible criminal of trafficking of human beings.
Regarding the financial needs linked with the displacement, the Commission's four migration-related funds (the External Borders Fund, Return Fund, Refugee Fund and Integration Fund) are available to Member States. For example, Italy, one of the major beneficiaries of these funds, has been allocated €55 million for 2010 and €75 million for 2011. Moreover, the Commission makes available an additional €25 million of emergency funding which can be quickly mobilised under the External Borders Funds and European Refugee Fund.
What measures could be undertaken in the short-term?
Should the inflow of irregular migrants and possible refugees continue, the Commission envisages a number of short-term measures that might be taken.
Resettlement of third country nationals
The continuous and possible increase in the flow of refugees (e.g. Somalis, Eritreans etc.), in need of international protection, coming from Libyan territory is an issue of major concern. The EU will not only continue to provide humanitarian assistance through its humanitarian office (ECHO), but it is also ready to offer through the European Refugee Fund financial support in view of facilitating the resettlement of persons in need of international protection. Resettlement represents not only a life-saving measure for the refugees concerned, but is also an important responsibility-sharing gesture towards the countries hosting them. Showing solidarity with the countries neighbouring Libya that are under pressure through resettlement can help to maintain 'protection space', as well as contributing to dialogue and cooperation on other issues of migration and border management.
The Commission has therefore been encouraging EU Member States to offer resettlement places, in a spirit of responsibility-sharing and in close cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). A meeting was held with Member States on 25 March at which details of the most urgent needs were explained by the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), both of whom are actively engaged on the ground in the region.
The current crisis in the Mediterranean clearly demonstrates how imperative it is that the Council and the European Parliament make an effort to rapidly reach an agreement on the adoption of the Commission's proposal for the establishment of an EU joint resettlement programme. This proposal would provide a structured basis for annual priority-setting, and linking those priorities with financial incentives, thereby encouraging more Member States to become involved in resettlement activities, and enhancing practical cooperation between Member States to that end.
Solidarity / Temporary Protection Directive
In the event of a massive inflow of persons who are likely to be in need of international protection, the Commission would expect Member States to demonstrate concrete solidarity with each other by directly assisting the States bearing the greatest burden. This could involve the relocation to other Member States of some persons seeking protection, or who have already received an international protection status.
Concrete assistance could likewise be provided by the newly-created European Asylum Support Office, one of whose central tasks is coordination of assistance to Member States whose asylum systems are under exceptional pressure. This could involve the deployment of so-called 'asylum support teams' to reinforce the capacities of a State to process asylum claims and to ensure appropriate reception conditions for asylum seekers.
The Commission would also be ready to consider proposing the use of the mechanism foreseen under the 2001 Temporary Protection Directive (2001/55/EC), if the conditions foreseen in the directive are met. Consideration could only be given to taking this step if it is clear that the persons concerned are likely to be in need of international protection, if they cannot be safely returned to their countries-of-origin, and if the numbers of persons arriving who are in need of protection are sufficiently great. Resort to this mechanism would allow for the immediate protection and reception in the territory of EU Member States for persons concerned, as well as offering a "breathing space" for the national asylum systems of the Member States most directly affected.
Measures to be envisaged in the long term
The EU institutions and EU Member States need to support the political and economic transition in the Southern Mediterranean region so as to help creating opportunities for the potential migrants to find employment at home. Such support must address the issue of mobility, migration and security together.
The joint Communication of the Commission and the High Representative for "A partnership for democracy and shared prosperity for democracy and shared prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean" proposed a new approach for a long-term partnership for migration, mobility and security. It was broadly endorsed by the European Council at its meetings of 11 and 25 March 2011.
It is also urgent to develop further the Regional Protection Programme (RPP), designated in April 2010, encompassing Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Under the Thematic Programme for the Cooperation with third countries in the area of migration and asylum, the Commission has already foreseen an allocation of 3.6 million EUR to finance such RPP. Regional Protection Programmes are designed to enhance the protection capacity of the regions involved - both regions of origin and transit regions alike - and to improve refugee protection through durable solutions (return, local integration or resettlement in a third country).
What would be the content of the Mobility Partnerships?
The positive experiences of the mobility partnerships developed so far in the context of the EU Global Approach to Migration (with Georgia, Moldova and Cape Verde) show a clear added value of joint EU efforts.
Mobility partnerships provide a framework for a well-managed movement of persons between the EU and a third country. A mobility partnership is a 'win-wins solution and covers visa and legal migration arrangements; legal frameworks for (economic) migration; capacity building to manage remittances; efficient matching of labour demands and needs, return and reintegration programmes for irregulars, upgrading of the asylum systems to EU standards.
In return for increased mobility, partners must be ready to undertake to increase their capacities for border management, preventing and fighting against irregular migration and trafficking in human beings, including through enhanced maritime surveillance; the return of irregular migrants (return arrangements and readmission agreements) and enhancing the capacity and abilities of law enforcement authorities to effectively fight cross-border organised crime and corruption.