Migration, belatedly on top of the EU agenda

The Valletta Summit is important because in a true sense of shared responsibility we hope to address the root causes and to tackle irregular migration in an integrated and comprehensive manner.

Informal EU ministerial meetings are never meant to reach any formal conclusions, irrespective of the areas that they may cover, but on the positive side they afford a certain degree of flexibility that certain ministers might shirk from resorting to when speaking officially and on record.

This is conducive to healthier brain storming. And facilitates the consideration of various options. Some practical, some doable, as well as others that might be outlandish or merely utopian. In a number of cases irrespective of the portfolios involved, national interests and concerns often clash or coincide with the agenda items under review.

Last week we had the benefit of discussing migration in such an informal meeting in Luxembourg, when I was deputising for my colleague Minister George Vella, who is by now already back in office. 

We did so among member states only, and at a later stage also in the presence of a number of candidate countries for whom migration has suddenly become an issue of major concern. 

The frank discussion took up the whole of Saturday morning and served to prove one important point: that no matter how unprepared the EU might have proved to be to the developments of the last few days, and how divided some countries might be on the ideal way ahead, there is at least one important common denominator: that albeit belatedly, the EU is recognising that migration is NOW as we and the Italians and the Greeks have long argued – A PRIORITY ISSUE for the Union itself.

If the EU has finally got round to accepting that this is now a problem, then this calls for a response, and any response invariably calls not only for a reaction but also for a solution.

This is definitely not the time for knee jerk reactions either grounded in complete self interest or else by mere emotion without being thought out rationally.

On the other hand a long term strategy is urgently called for without much further hesitation.

Had the EU been better prepared and responded quicker and faster to our S Mediterranean concerns of years and months ago, it could have faced a smaller crisis. Or at least with a quicker response. 

Particularly since we are talking of migrants who in the majority of cases have merely adjusted or changed their routes for reasons long evident to us.

Who would want to further use Libya as an exit route at this stage when the country is near becoming a failed state and happens to be facing various internal security problems?

The Syrian problem was not an issue born yesterday. It has festered for over five years and the number of Syrian refugees has been rising incrementally as the situation continued to deteriorate further.

The figures of those presently located in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey speak for themselves.

As we gathered in Luxembourg we could only look at the external aspects of the problem in view of the portfolios of those present. 

But there are some important points that one cannot gloss over:

•    The need to work on re-admission and return also through dialogue with African countries even if this alone will not solve the problem on its own – all this within the spirit of Article 13 of Cotonou 

•    The fight against smugglers and traffickers who are becoming far more sophisticated than ever, given the trans national manner in which some of these well organised criminal gangs operate. 

•    The Valletta Summit will be crucial since through dialogue between the EU and African countries on such a specific subject the way could be paved for further collaboration, ideally of the tangible kind

•    We cannot ignore the fact that the problem is not only affecting far more member states than ever but even candidate countries like Turkey, that is doing incredible work in hosting near to two million refugees. 

The problem needs to be addressed through solidarity but also through the application of responsibility.

The EU must seek to speak as much as possible with one voice, since duplication of debates could prove to be counter productive.

Regardless of whether one looks upon the issue as a major refugee crisis or as a mass migration issue or both, there seems to be general agreement that in sharp contrast with the EU’s earlier stance towards us S Mediterraneans, it is realising that having individual countries shifting the issue to their neighbours is simply not on.

Malta is acting responsibly when it is repeatedly stating, as the PM did recently in Italy too, that it is our duty to make sure that the situation in Libya is not forgotten on an international level. 

As the number of asylum requests will no doubt continue to rise, we must ensure that we are able to give protection to those in need, and that we are also able to address migration in its complexities, through a holistic and comprehensive approach.

In addition to supporting the management of migration flows and emergencies, it is indispensable to work with the countries of origin and of transit both bilaterally and regionally.

Over the years in Malta we have witnessed firsthand a surge of migrants and refugees through Libya from the Horn of Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, many of whom lose their lives in the journey.

The Valletta Summit is important because in a true sense of shared responsibility we hope to address the root causes and to tackle irregular migration in an integrated and comprehensive manner.

There is also no doubt that Europe is crying out for an asylum and refugee policy based on more responsibility sharing across the Continent.

Now is the time for tangible deliverables. 

Malta has in recent months not only taken a most sensible approach but history is likely to judge us favourably as the rapid escalation of the migration crisis had conveyed the strongest message yet in favour of the need of a European solution. 

Our past statements bear us out.