Commissioner Avramopoulos speech

Migration today is part and parcel of our societies. It is an inherent feature of our
globalised world.
It brings richness and opportunities, but it also comes with challenges.
The events in the Mediterranean over the Christmas and New Year's period remind us
all of this.
We were all deeply moved by those events, in which two cargo boats with around
1200 migrants on board were abandoned and left to drift dangerously in the
This is unacceptable.
Because political and economic instability in many regions of the world generates a
constant influx of persons towards Europe and this will not go away.
These people are looking towards Europe to protect them.
As Commissioner in charge of Migration and Home Affairs, I clearly see the need for
decisive and coordinated EU-wide actions.
In this context, cooperation with civil society has a key role in addressing migratory
The conclusions that came out of today´s Forum are tangible proof that it was worth
enlarging the scope of this Forum, given that all migratory challenges are closely inter
related and require broad forms of dialogue.
To contribute to this dialogue, I would like to share with you my ideas and approach to
the different issues debated over the last two days.
Smuggling is dangerous and exposes people to unsafe and inhumane travelling
conditions. Last year, 3.000 persons are estimated to have lost their lives attempting to
reach Europe by crossing the sea. During their journey to Europe, many fell into the
hands of traffickers and were victims of violence including sexual abuse.
All migrants pay a fortune to these ruthless smugglers for a passage to Europe.
To protect people from these criminals, the European Union has undertaken many
important initiatives to tackle smuggling, resulting in the arrest of hundreds of
The Commission is also putting in place awareness campaigns in many countries of
origin and transit - including in Ethiopia, Niger and Pakistan – to warn people about the
risks of embarking on journeys to Europe.
These efforts need to be pursed further.
Smugglers are smart. They are well organised in professional and flexible networks
that transcend borders.
They use social media to share information and operate from locations such as
international waters where they are difficult to locate and arrest.
That is why cooperation with countries of origin and transit is a cornerstone of the
Commission's strategy to fight smuggling.
This cooperation also encompasses the assistance to the refugees in these third
As confirmed by yesterday's discussions, civil society can play an important role in this
respect by helping in "debunking the myths" about smuggling and irregular migration.
Clearly "bottom up" messages and information have much more impact on people
than institutionalised campaigns.
Another important element that emerged strongly from the discussions on countering
smuggling is that NGOs – and local and regional authorities – which provide assistance
to smuggled migrants shall not be criminalised. I fully agree with this, of course, as I
also agree on the need to protect the fundamental rights of those who are being
smuggled. Those who we need to punish are the smugglers!
We all know why migrants undertake such dangerous journeys.
They want to come to Europe to escape war and conflicts or they are simply looking
for a better future.
So what can Europe do to tackle the phenomenon of smuggling at its roots?
Regarding access to the asylum procedure and assistance to refugees, let me stress the
urgent need for EU Member States to implement fully the Common European Asylum
System in order to ensure effective, safe and fair access to the asylum procedure,
including at the border.
At the same time, a serious effort must be made to establish a truly European
programme for the resettlement of refugees. Member States have so far offered over
a total of 36.000 places to Syrian refugees, making it the largest pledge in the history
of EU resettlement efforts.
Europe needs to do more.
Right now, the Commission is discussing with the Member States on how to ensure a
more balanced distribution of resettled refugees among all Member States. We will
soon elaborate on the proposal for a pilot project on resettlement in which all Member
States and Associated States could take part.
We count on your support in encouraging all Member States to take their part of the
responsibility for resettlement. Member States need to understand that refugees are
not a burden; on the contrary – if the integration process is successful and if their
access to employment is encouraged and facilitated – they can be an important
resource for the host country.
Last, but not least, people who seek and obtain refugee status in the European Union,
should become fully part of our societies. The European Commission will continue to
help and support Member States in implementing and developing integration
measures and policies at local, regional and national level.
The discussions in the workshops yesterday showed that a successful path towards
integration has to start from the very beginning. This is why an effective partnership
with civil society organisations already at the identification stage, when people arrive,
is crucial for ensuring that the successive integration process works well. The
Praesidium project in Italy is a good example of this.
Ladies and gentlemen, all the challenges discussed over these two days are closely
inter-related and require a European response.
That is why the Commission intends to present a comprehensive approach in a
European Agenda on Migration with central objectives:
To assist migrants in need of protection (be it asylum seekers,
refugees or victims of trafficking);
to reinforce Europe's borders in respect of migrants rights and to
better manage irregular migration flows;
to make Europe attractive by opening legal channels and supporting
To achieve these objectives, migration has to be embedded in all relevant external
and internal EU policies.
The results of the discussions during this first meeting of the European Migration
Forum constitute a valuable contribution to the preparation of this Agenda.
Finally, we must not forget an important additional challenge that we are facing, inside
We need to change the perception of the public opinion on migration.
Our biggest concern is the rise of racism and xenophobia, fuelled by populist
movements across Europe.
To communicate the positive contribution of migration, I intend to launch an EU-wide
campaign to improve the narrative about migration in cooperation with Member
States later this year.
In this respect, you, as civil society organisations, could also contribute in promoting
positive messages on migration.
The European Commission is determined to build on and further develop coherent,
comprehensive and effective policies that allow all Europeans citizens and all migrants
of all origin and community to find their place and have a bright future in our society.