We all have in our minds the terrible images from Lampedusa and from the boat capsized in Maltese waters last week. I will personally never forget the hundreds of coffins, or the hopeless despair in the survivors’ eyes or the images of people desperately trying to reach the rescuing vessels.
These tragic events call for immediate responses at national and EU level. At national level, member states have the respons-ibility to manage and survey their borders and to rescue boats in distress, in full compliance with international and EU laws and obligations. Countries at the EU external borders receive EU funding and assistance to do so.
In 2007-2013, Italy received €478 million to manage migratory and asylum flows, Greece received €376 million and Malta received €85 million. If we just look at border management funds, in the last two years Italy received €136 million, Greece received €89 million and Malta received €35 million.
Operational assistance is also provided by the European Border Agency Frontex: five operations are currently being coordinated by Frontex in the Mediterranean to support countries with surveillance, interception and rescue operations.
Let me also stress that increasing migration and asylum pressure is not an issue only for Mediterranean countries. In fact, most asylum requests are dealt with by other member states. Out of the 330.000 asylum requests filed in the EU countries in 2012, 70 per cent have been registered in just five member states: Germany (75,000), France (60,000), Sweden (44,000), Belgium (28,000) and UK (28,000). In 2012 Italy received 15,700 asylum requests, and Malta 2,000.
But it is also clear that the increased pressure that Italy, Malta, Greece and other Mediterranean countries are experiencing is a European problem, and that a sound management of migratory and asylum flows at national level has to be accompanied by supporting initiatives and measures at EU level.
On October 24-25, the EU heads of state and government will discuss migration and asylum policies in the aftermath of Lampedusa in an effort to try to find answers on how to prevent further tragedies. This will give a unique opportunity to the European leaders to show that EU is based on the principle of solidarity and mutual support.
The European Commission has already identified some elements for discussion that we hope will be taken into consideration at this meeting.
The recent joint Italy-Malta rescue efforts have saved hundreds of lives, and prove that increased and coordinated surveillance efforts are key to prevent deaths in the Mediterranean waters. This is why the European Commission is proposing an extensive Frontex search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, from Cyprus to Spain, aimed at saving lives.
Such an operation, together with the state-of-the-art technology provided by Eurosur, will allow us to better detect, track and identify boats and vessels, rescuing them earlier and saving lives. It will also give a concrete example of solidarity and mutual support.
But this operation can only work if all member states are ready to make additional financial and technical resources available. The Commission and Frontex experts are already assessing the needs and the assets required for such an operation, but this cannot be done without additional and urgent contributions by member states.
After the recent tragedies the EU needs to demonstrate that it is able to find answers
The European Council should also look at increasing cooperation and dialogue with the countries of origin and transit of the migrants and asylum seekers, in particular Libya, in order to address the problems at their roots. The EU needs to open more channels for regular migration and to fight more effectively against irregular mig-ration and the criminals behind these deadly journeys exploiting people’s despair.
We have already agreed a mobility partnership with Morocco, that paves the way to this new approach, and we would like to do the same with Tunisa, Egypt and other North African countries. A clear commitment from all EU countries will certainly have a positive impact on the possibility to negociate such agreements, as well as on efforts for stability and democracy-building in countries like Libya.
The European Commission also considers that clearer commitments are necessary by member states in carrying out resettlements in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in order to create safe channels to Europe for people in need of international protection.
The EU, and especially the countries currently under less migratory and asylum pressure, should engage more actively in resettling them to their territory. A truly European effort with all member states taking up their responsibilities can make a serious contribution in avoiding that people put their lives in the hands of death merchants.
We should pay special attenton to bring the most vulnerable refugees, like children, elderly people and sick people, safely to the EU. This could be done in specific cases through human-itarian visas or by giving them the possibility to ask for aysulm in EU countries’ consulates.
After the recent tragedies the EU needs to demonstrate that it is able to find answers. All member states have expressed the common will to act in order to prevent similar horrible events in future. All Europ-ean governments agree that this should not happen again. I am confident that the European Council will find concrete ways to translate this determination into action.
Cecilia Malmström is European Commissioner for Home Affairs.
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