Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship
"Fundamental Rights and Migration to the EU" Conference hosted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and the Italian Presidency of the Council of the EU
Ladies and Gentlemen,
During my hearings before the European Parliament, I made it clear that the protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants, regardless of their status, is not optional.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights reminds us that the European Union is founded on the universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity. It is the guiding line of our mission in Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship.
Yesterday’s 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall also reminds us why Europe must continue to defend freedom and peace in the world.
There are many neighbouring countries embroiled in conflict, fighting for these same values.
It is our responsibility to continue on the same path defending the values upon which Europe is built.
As far as The Mediterranean crisis is concerned:
I do not need to stress that we live in difficult times.
Conflicts and unrest in countries like Syria, Iraq or Libya, to name but a few, are having a dramatic impact on the lives of millions of people, many of whom are forced to escape to seek protection or simply better life prospects in Europe.
A year ago, on 3 October 2013, Lampedusa tragically hit the headlines when 360 people died while trying to reach Europe after a boat sank near the Italian island.
This was neither the first nor the last incident involving migrants to happen in the Mediterranean Sea, but it has become a “point of reference” for what we must avoid in the future.
These tragedies cannot be repeated. This is why it is urgent to act. A Union that lives up to its role and to its responsibilities should fully protect the fundamental rights of migrants.
Just eight weeks after the Lampedusa incident, a Task Force Mediterranean was set up to provide a response to this crisis situation.
The Commission, Member States, EU agencies and other key players together identified priority actions in the effort to prevent further human rights violations and loss of life in the Mediterranean.
These actions are all fully anchored in international human rights standards, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Several actions have already been implemented and others are in the process of being carried out, in areas such as:
- cooperation with third countries,
- assistance and solidarity measures for the Member States most hit by migratory pressure,
- reinforced border surveillance and
- the fight against trafficking and smuggling of human beings.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On countering migrant smugglinga lot has been done.
It is though clear that more needs to be achieved.
The key to increasing the effectiveness of our action is working together with all players through a common and coherent framework.
This is why one of my top priorities over the next months will be the development of a comprehensive EU Plan to tackle migrant smuggling in order to reinforce the legal, political and financial instruments at our disposal.
The task is not easy. Smugglers are unscrupulous, increasingly flexible and well organised, constantly adapting their modus operandi to new policies and establishing cross-border networks that target the most vulnerable. This is not only a matter of figures – it's about their growing impunity.
We need to build a stronger criminal justice response to stop this crime, investigating and prosecuting those in charge more vigorously. We need to destroy their whole underlying business model, by transforming it from a ‘low risk, high return’ into a ‘high risk, low return’ one.
But our target is clear: to eradicate this phenomenon.
The EU Plan that we intend to develop to counter migrant smuggling will focus both on dismantling of the criminal networks, through reinforced intelligence sharing, investigation capacities, and prosecution, and on prevention, through information campaigns about the dangers of being smuggled to the EU and enhanced cooperation with third countries.
This last point, namely the cooperation with third countries, is of key importance. We need to continue to strengthen our policy dialogue with countries of origin and transit. These dialogues need to be matched with financial and operational support, to demonstrate real achievements and build trust amongst stakeholders.
To give you just one example, the Commission in mid-October in Khartoum, together with the Italian Presidency, put forward a new initiative for the Horn of Africa and Mediterranean transit countries.
It paves the way for reinforced policy dialogue and concrete cooperation in the form of specific projects with the relevant authorities in charge of countering human smuggling and trafficking.
It also addresses root causes of irregular and forced migration. The declaration for this "Khartoum Process" will be signed at the Ministerial Meeting hosted by Italy, here in Rome, on 28 November.
And now, a word on border management and human rights:
Every year tens of thousands attempt to get round border controls to enter irregularly.
Our border management policy is clearly a priority. We believe that a higher level of security is compatible with the full protection of migrants' rights.
Border control must be carried out without prejudice to the rights of persons requesting international protection, in particular as regards the principle of non-refoulement and effective access to the asylum procedure.
The protection of fundamental rights is given increased priority in the activities of Frontex, the EU’s border management agency.
Notably, these are key elements in the Regulation setting out rules for sea operations coordinated by Frontex, adopted earlier this year, under the Greek Presidency.
Even though Frontex is not a search and rescue body, it can operationally support Member States to deal with such situations, such as through the reinforced joint operation Triton, launched on 1 November with the support of 21 Member States.
Openness and security are two equally important pillars of the European edifice. One of the reasons for so many lost lives is that it is too difficult for people seeking protection to enter the EU legally.
We need to improve this.
Resettlement of refugees from third countries is a legal avenue for seeking protection in the EU.
The EU as a whole must increase its commitment to the global resettlement efforts, and all Member States should contribute to that effort.
Aside from resettlement, we also need other legal ways for those seeking protection to come to Europe safely instead of resorting to perilous journeys.
These matters will be discussed at the Resettlement and Relocation Forum organised by the Commission on 25 November.
But it is not enough.
We also intend to reinforce and expand Regional Development and Protection Programmes in North Africa and in the Horn of Africa in order to stabilise refugee populations in transit countries and improve the situation of people in need of international protection on their way to Europe.
I intend, together with my colleagues Federica Mogherini and Christos Stylianides, to visit soon all the third countries concerned.
Asylum seekers and refugees are a specific group, for which EU and international law provide specific guarantees. However they are not the only vulnerable group that we target with our action.
Let me just mention here the situation of children in a migratory context and in particular the thousands of unaccompanied minors that arrive in Europe every year.
This is a very sensitive issue and a personal priority of mine because of its nature.
The EU has strengthened child protection via recent EU laws in the fields of asylum, immigration and trafficking in human beings. Specific attention has been paid to unaccompanied children.
In line with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the guiding principle of our approach is that each decision must be taken with the best interests of the child at heart, regardless of his or her migratory status.
The other side of the coin is those who cannot remain on EU territory. Their return must always be carried out in full respect of the fundamental rights of the individual, including the most vulnerable ones.
I have highlighted some of the most pressing challenges ahead of us in ensuring the fundamental rights of those who attempt to reach Europe.
It is important to consider as well the many who legally live among us. Who work, study and actively contribute to the prosperity of our societies.
The EU has in place a common immigration policy and legal instruments.
EU law grants labour migrants equal rights to EU citizens in nearly all aspects of social security and working conditions.
Such an inclusive approach is essential for building strong societies and sustainable economies.
Together with this legal framework, integration policies play an important role in shaping an attractive, welcoming environment for migrants. These are for us two sides of the same coin.
Despite our efforts, important challenges remain in terms of:
- comparatively low employment levels,
- gaps in educational attainment,
- high risks of social exclusion and poverty, as well as
- public perceptions and prejudice facing migrants.
Our future efforts should focus on increasing the effectiveness of our current policies, through the use of all instruments we already have at our disposal, such as the common EU integration indicators.
Coordination and cooperation with the local authorities is precious as well –something that I know from the period I was Mayor of Athens.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We know that there is no easy solution to address the important tasks ahead of us. But there is a strong political will. I am convinced that, acting together, we can make a real improvement in the current situation.
The new Commission is particularly well equipped to deal with cross-cutting themes and I will work closely with my colleague Commissioners in charge of fundamental rights, external relations and development policies, which are key for the good management of Migration, Home affairs and Citizenship policies.
This is what we do in our work and relations with Member States, third countries, and all the stakeholders that we work with, daily.
Thanks to good cooperation with all players involved, and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights is certainly one of them, our efforts have achieved a lot in the past.
I am convinced that we will be able to do even more and better in the future.
La Commissione europea lavorerà a fianco degli Stati membri schierati in prima linea, con spirito di solidarietà e comprensione.
Di fronte a queste sfide l'Italia non è sola.