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European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Statement by President Barroso following his visit to Lampedusa

Press point/Lampedusa

9 October 2013


Voglio ringraziare il Presidente Letta e il Vice presidente Alfano, per avermi dato l'opportunità di fare questa visita. Ringrazio anche il sindaco di Lampedusa, Nicolini e il Presidente della regione Crocetta. Dopo i tragici eventi della settimana scorsa, è molto importante per me essere qui oggi. Voglio esprimere, ancora una volta, le mie più sentite condoglianze alle famiglie delle persone che hanno perso la vita nella tragedia della settimana scorsa e ai loro cari.

Siamo venuti qui oggi per dire che l'Europa sta con la gente di Lampedusa e con l'Italia.

Il problema in uno dei nostri paesi come l'Italia deve essere percepito come un problema di noi tutti in Europa. Credo che tutti insieme possiamo reagire in modo più adeguato a tragedie come questa. L'Europa non può girarsi dall'altra parte quando ci sono barche che stanno affondando, distruggendo vita e speranza.

If I may now switch to English,

We in the European Commission, myself and Commissioner Malmström, we believe that the European Union cannot accept that thousands of people die at its borders. The challenges that Lampedusa and Italy are facing are European challenges.

I really appreciate the fact that I was coming here, because one thing is to read the reports, another thing is to watch the television, and another thing is to be in loco, experiencing the suffering and indignation of people. That image of hundreds of coffins will never get out of my mind. It is something I think one cannot forget. Coffins of babies, coffins with the mother and the child that was born just at that moment. This is something that profoundly shocked me and deeply saddened me. I also saw the desperate eyes in many survivors, I visited with President Letta, Vice-President Alfano and Commissioner Malmström the centro di accoglienza, the reception centre, I saw desperate eyes, I saw in some of them some hope, also some hope, and I believe now we have to give reason for that hope. To show that that hope in the middle of this suffering can be justified.

I also witnessed the great support and commitment shown by the people of Lampedusa, expressed by the sindaco, the NGOs on the ground, the Italian authorities. I want to thank all of them in the name of the European Commission. All those, that professionally or in a voluntary basis were doing everything they could to save lives and also to give a better reception to people that are suffering so much.

As President Letta said, there are some things we can do at national level, others we have to do at European level. I have to tell you that the European Union is facing this problem and that the European Commission is trying to raise awareness regarding this problem.

And what I can promise today, is that the Commission will do all it can, with the means that we have, to help changing the situation.

Our efforts indeed do not start only now. The European Union has been making big efforts over the past years, but I think this tragedy of today shows us that it is indispensable to step up our efforts. And that is the message that I will also convey to the European Council, to the Heads of State and Government.

Some measures have already been taken. Some years ago there was nothing to face this challenge, FRONTEX was created. It is the European Union's external border management and cooperation agency. It was recently reinforced. And we have to have a better cooperation and coordination among Member States. The European institutions do not have airplanes, we do not have ships, we do not have these means. But I believe through good cooperation between our Member States much more can be achieved, showing also solidarity towards those most exposed.

Indeed, I have to have a word also of gratitude to those countries that are receiving many refugees. In last year, around 332 000 refugees came to Europe. 70 % of the asylum applications, I am only speaking about the asylum applications, were received by 5 countries. I want to thank specially Germany, France, Sweden, United Kingdom and Belgium. Other countries also are giving a contribution like, Austria and Italy, but I believe that here we need burden sharing among Member States.

We need also to strengthen our capacity for search and rescue, and our surveillance system to track boats, so that we can launch a rescue operation and bring people back to safe grounds before they perish. I think the kind of tragedy we have witnessed here so close to the coast should never happen again. Our initiative "Eurosur" is meant to do that, and we want to see it put into action already on the 2nd of December. I expect that tomorrow, the European Parliament will vote in favour of this important initiative.

We must also continue our political and development action to improve the living conditions in the countries of origin, working with them there, so that people do not have to flee their homes. Together with my colleagues here at the table, I was now receiving the message from some people from Eritrea, from a young boy that left his country alone without his family, that survived, because he said he had no conditions to live in his country.

We must also step up our talks with key third country partners and conclude mobility partnerships for legal migration, but also reinforce our joint action against criminals and people smugglers. Because we should not forget that many of these people that are here today with us and the ones who died, they were paying for smugglers to bring them in these unsafe conditions to Europe. We have already concluded one of these mobility partnerships with Morocco, we are very soon concluding another one in Tunisia, and we hope to do that also with other countries and asking them to cooperate.

We will also continue to make good use of our refugee and border funds, to help Member States in distress.

Sono lieto di annunciare che la Commissione nel 2013 è pronta a mobilizzare i fondi addizionali fino a un massimo di 30 milioni di euro per aiutare i rifugiati in Italia. Lavoreremo insieme alle autorità italiane per assicurare che tali risorse allevino le difficoltà dei rifugiati sul territorio.

This is a concrete announcement I can make today, for additional funding for Italy of 30 million euros, but of course we know that much more has to be done together with our Member States.

And we also continue to work tirelessly toward a truly common European asylum and migration policy.

As President Letta said, we in the European Commission are doing everything we can to have a much stronger mechanism at European level. We should not forget that today Lampedusa and Italy are the focus of attention, but let's not forget that also other countries are facing strong migratory pressure, Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, to name just a few examples.

To find answers to these common challenges, we all need to work together, in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility.

Indeed, when it comes to Syrian, Syrian refugees and we also today spoke with Syrian refugees, in the centre of reception here, we the European Commission and our Member States, the European Union, are by far the largest donor of humanitarian aid in the world, by far. I personally visited some time ago a refugee camp in the North of Jordan, where we are helping concretely young boys and young girls to have school, that without the support of the European Union they could not have access to school and improvised tents. So this is to tell you that the European Union is very attentive to this issue but we believe more has to be done. We are, as Commission, committed to drive this action forward, we expect our Member States to recognise that this is in our genuine European interest and that they act also accordingly.

I thank you for your attention.

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