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Cecilia Malmström

Member of the European Commission responsible for Home Affairs

Immigration flows – Tunisia situation

EP Plenary Session

Strasbourg, 15 February 2011

President, Honourable Members,

Thank you for this timely debate on a situation that deserves all our attention.

The Commission is closely following the situation, and Frontex has sent two experts to the scene. Approximately 5 500 Tunisian migrants are reported to have reached Italian shores in the last couple of days, and the numbers are reportedly dropping during the last 24 hours. They are mostly men in their 30s but also 34 women and 108 children. 27 facilitators of trafficking were identified.

These arrivals on Italian shores are causing an exceptional pressure on the reception facilities of Italy, particularly in Lampedusa. Last Saturday already, I spoke to the Italian Interior Minister, Mr Maroni, to offer Italy help and support.

I have also received a letter from Mr Maroni requesting EU assistance.

We are ready to assist both Italy and Tunisia. This is a matter of great importance for the EU as a whole, not just a bilateral issue.

Even before the most recent developments, the Commission, together with Frontex, started identifying what can be done in the short and medium term. The EU common response should be based on the principle of EU solidarity between Member States, and we are ready to assist Italy.

But our approach should also be based on solidarity with Tunisia and its democratic transition. This was also expressed by Lady Ashton who met Tunisian authorities in Tunis yesterday and offered them financial support.

To assist Italy under these extraordinary circumstances, we have identified a comprehensive series of concrete measures as well as quick financial assistance.

Financially, we are ready to mobilise an exceptional assistance under the European Refugee Fund for 2011 in addition to the funding already earmarked for 2011 for Italy.

This would allow Italy to pay, for instance, for accommodation infrastructure; material aid and medical care; social assistance, counselling with administrative, judicial and eventually asylum procedures; legal aid and language assistance.

We can also mobilise quickly financial resources from other EU Funds, such as the European Border Fund. In addition, if need be, Italy can ask the new European Office on Asylum to deploy teams to support the national authorities dealing with the asylum requests.

Concerning the surveillance of the external borders, a joint Frontex operation could be set up. I am in constant contact with FRONTEX and I know that preparations at the technical level are being made.

As usual, such a joint operation depends on other Member States' voluntary contributions of equipment and I invite all Member States to show their support.

Let me reassure you on one point: due to the different nature of sea/land border operations a request to Member States to participate in a new joint operation would not as such compete with their contributions to the operations at the Greek land border. This is and remains clearly another priority.

I also want to underline that we must pay specific attention to vulnerable categories or persons in need of international protection. Their needs must be taken into account and they must be able to access the special protection they are entitled to, as provided for by national and EU law.

On all these concrete actions I mentioned, we are ready to meet representatives of the Italian authorities to agree on the details of each action and decide on the next steps.

Honourable Members,

A medium-term strategy must also be further developed.

In the particular context of migration flows, we need a combination of effective border management and a strategy for supporting democratic and economic transition. In a shorter term, Tunisian authorities should effectively patrol the frontiers of their country - at sea and along the coasts - to prevent smugglers, human traffickers, and criminals escaped from prisons to take advantage of the situation.

It is also important that Tunisia accept taking back those who have reached the territory of EU Member States without being in need of international protection or with no title to remain in the EU.

Looking at a more structural intervention, we should explore the possibility of better targeting EU assistance, for example by promoting projects able to support income and job generating activities in the regions of Tunisia. I refer in particular to the Southern parts of the country.

More broadly, a coherent approach to supporting the political and economic development in Tunisia needs to include possibilities for these people to come to the EU legally, as well as the exchange of goods, services, and know-how.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A wind of renewal is blowing in the Mediterranean as a result of popular revolutions. This wind can bring many positive developments to Tunisia, to other countries and the EU. The current situation in Lampedusa should not undermine our intention to offer assistance to these emerging democracies and the young generation that, so passionately and in such a peaceful way, has been able to achieve fundamental political changes.

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