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Brussels, 2 October 2014
Commissioner Cecilia Malmström commemorates the Lampedusa tragedy
One year ago, I visited Lampedusa together with Italy’s Prime Minister Letta, Interior Minister Alfano and Commission President Barroso. We were standing in front of rows of coffins containing the bodies of the victims of the Lampedusa shipwreck, which happened on 3 October 2013. These images are still in my mind as a terrible reminder of how we must strive to keep Europe open to those who seek protection. For those escaping dictatorship and oppression, fleeing conflicts and wars, Europe is a shelter where they can find safety, or a new life far from tyranny and misery.
Today it is virtually impossible to come to Europe in a legal and safe way. Migrants are forced to put their lives in the hands of traffickers and smugglers who are making huge profits by exploiting their misery and despair. These merchants of death have no fear or pity, risking the lives of children, women and men by putting them at sea on what can only be described as wrecks. Only a few weeks ago, we learned that several hundreds of migrants lost their lives when smugglers deliberately sank a vessel.
Let me be very clear – when it comes to accepting refugees, solidarity between EU member states is still largely non-existent. This is quite possibly our biggest challenge for the future. While some EU members are taking responsibility, providing refuge for thousands of refugees, several EU countries are accepting almost no-one. In some countries, the number of yearly refugees barely exceeds a few handfuls. Last year, six whole countries of the EU accepted less than 250 refugees between them. All this, while the world around us is in flames. These EU countries could quite easily face up to reality by accepting resettled refugees through the UN system, but despite our persistent demands they are largely refusing. This is nothing short of a disgrace.
If all the promises after the Lampedusa tragedy are to mean anything, solidarity between EU countries must become reality. For this to happen, we must in the coming years develop a responsibility-sharing mechanism between all EU states. This is of course nothing that can be forced upon Member States. However, I believe it is an absolute necessity if the EU is to live up to its ideals.
On the positive side, the EU has agreed on a Common European Asylum System after many years of deliberations. It sets up laws to make sure that the asylum seekers who make it to Europe's shores are treated fairly and humanely, wherever they arrive. This is a major step forward, and it is imperative that this EU legislation is now implemented swiftly in all Member States.
Regarding the situation in the Mediterranean, the European Commission, within the limits of its competences and resources, has put in place all available actions and measures to assist Mediterranean countries, and Italy in particular. I am confident the new Triton operation, coordinated by the Frontex agency, will represent an important tool to complement the Italian efforts and give concrete proof of European solidarity.
Overview of European Commission actions in the fields of migration, asylum and borders
The Commission has provided all the financial and logistical support allowed by the powers conferred by the Member States. As far as Member States are concerned more can surely be done in terms of solidarity, in particular in areas like resettlement of refugees that can only be carried out on voluntary basis.
The Commission has proposed ways to better address migratory and asylum flows, and prevent migrants' death in the Mediterranean. Concrete steps have been taken to support Italy and improve the situation on the ground, including through:
Funding for migration, asylum and borders
Many actions have been undertaken to support Italy in the framework of the migration and asylum policy. Following the Lampedusa tragedy additional emergency funding was mobilised to an unprecedented extent. In 2013 the Commission granted a 30 million euro package of Emergency Assistance to Italy which aims on the one hand at increasing the capacity of accommodation and of the authorities examining asylum cases, and on the other hand at supporting surveillance and rescue operations at sea.
As a whole Italy has been the largest beneficiary of the additional emergency funding disbursed during the period 2007-2013.
But the Commission does not merely react to emergencies. From 2007-2013 Italy received a basic allocation of €478.7 million from the EU under the four former Funds in the area of Migration (European Refugee Fund, European Fund for the Integration of Third Country Nationals, European Return Fund and External Borders Fund).
For the 2014-2020 period at least €310 million from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund in addition to €156 million from the Internal Security Fund (Borders) will be made available to Italy. With a total of €466 million, Italy will therefore continue to be one of the main beneficiaries of EU funding for actions in these fields between 2014 and 2020.
Operational support: Triton on its way
Frontex is working together with the Italian authorities on a new operation called Triton, whose aim will be to increase assistance to Italy and to complement the Italian efforts. This operation, which in principle should start on the 1st of November at the earliest, will count on more Member States participating and more human and technical resources being deployed by them. As there are no European border guards nor planes or ships under direct command of the Agency, the success of this new Frontex operation will depend on the contribution that EU Member States will be ready to make. Frontex and Italy are currently defining the last details of the operational plan. Frontex has launched a call for Member States participation and contribution. The Commission strongly encourages all Member States to participate and deploy the requested assets and guest officers in a spirit of solidarity. In order to make this get this operation up and running as soon as possible, the Commission is exploring possibilities to transfer additional funds to Frontex.
At the end of 2013 the Commission allocated €7.9 million to Frontex in order to boost its operational activities in the Mediterranean, including extending and reinforcing the joint operations Hermes (in the Sea of Sicily, between Italy, Malta, Tunisia and Libya) and Aeneas (in the Ionian Sea, between Italy and Greece, intercepting also arrivals originating from Turkey and Egypt) currently in place to assist Italian authorities' efforts in the Mediterranean. Whilst the details of joint operation Triton are worked out, Frontex also provides for assistance to build effective administrative capacity in the field of return in compliance with applicable EU law.
The newly operational European Border Surveillance System enables the Member States' border control authorities to quickly exchange information on incidents, such as on vessels with migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, and to coordinate their response in a structured and efficient manner. For this purpose, all 19 Schengen Member States located at the southern and eastern external borders have established their national coordination centres for border surveillance, and the remaining 11 Schengen Member States will do so until the end of this year. In the Italian national coordination centre the Italian Coast Guard, Navy, Police, Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza exchange information and coordinate their activities with each other as well as with Frontex on a daily basis. During the previous months, Frontex has successfully proven its capability to detect such vessels on the high sea with modern surveillance technology in selected parts of the Mediterranean Sea. Frontex is continuously improving this capability in close cooperation with other agencies, such as the European Maritime Safety Agency.
Asylum and resettlement
Common European Asylum System (CEAS): New EU rules have been agreed, improving standards for those in need of protection. They ensure fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers in Europe wherever they arrive – including through common deadlines for handling asylum applications for instance. The Commission will pay particular attention to the coherent and effective implementation of the new common asylum rules.
EASO is carrying out support programmes for Italy on e.g. advice on organisation of reception and assistance in training of the National Asylum Commission. Several Member States have committed experts to be deployed in Asylum Support Teams.
Unaccompanied minors: The Commission has presented a proposal to ensure that the best interests of minors always prevails in the Dublin procedure and that unaccompanied minors will not be needlessly transferred from one EU State to another. They will have quicker access to the procedures for determining protection status. This will boost the effectiveness of our common asylum system for some of the most vulnerable of all (in 2013 some 12.700 unaccompanied minors filed an asylum request in the EU).
Resettlement of refugees: EU funding for 2014-2020 also aims at stimulating and supporting efforts and commitments in the field of resettlement (i.e.: taking refugees directly from a third country outside Europe and bringing them safely in the EU). The European Commission cannot oblige Member States to do so, but encourages efforts by making available a lump sum of between €6.000 and €10.000 per resettled refugee (depending on specific categories). Only half of EU Member States currently have annual resettlement programmes.
Asylum statistics: In 2013 Italy registered 26.620 asylum applications – a sharp increase compared to the year before (17.350 applications). This represents around 6% of the total applications in the EU Member States in 2013, but let's be clear with figures: in 2013 Germany (125.000), France (65.000) and Sweden (55.000) received more than 50% of the 435.000 asylum requests filed in the EU. While Italy has been under considerable pressure, the ratio of asylum applications/national population was below the EU-28 average over the period 2009-2013. In 2013, 135 700 asylum seekers were granted protection in the EU Member States.
Cooperation and dialogue with countries of origin and transit of migrants
Dialogue and cooperation with third countries is being reinforced. The Commission has concluded Mobility Partnerships with Morocco and Tunisia. Mobility Partnerships allow to identify more channels for regular migration and to help those countries developing their capacities to offer protection in the region and to respect human rights in their territory. At the same time they allow to increase cooperation in fighting smugglers and traffickers who exploit migrants. The European Commission has also concluded and signed a readmission agreement with Turkey that, following a transitional period, will play an important role in reducing irregular migratory pressure in the next years.