Valletta won’t address this human tragedy

Despite pooled efforts and strong political declarations, the outcome of the Valletta Summit was predictable – as are all EU Summits on migration.

Valletta summit leaders pose for a 'family' photograph outside Auberge de Castille • Photos: Ray Attard
Valletta summit leaders pose for a 'family' photograph outside Auberge de Castille • Photos: Ray Attard

The Valletta Summit was a good initiative taken by the Maltese government. EU and African leaders came together to grapple with the human tragedy of migration, Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. Malta managed to put migration on top of the EU’s agenda. Unfortunately, however, not all EU and African leaders are keen to see the relationship between the two flourish. 

Ironically, whilst EU leaders were gathering in Malta, Germany re-introduced the Dublin regulations – which it had suspended in August, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under increased pressure from her coalition government to cut the numbers arriving. Her trust ratings have suffered a dip in the recent months.

Slovenia, on its part, was busy building a wall to keep refugees out. Nearly 105,000 people have entered Slovenia in less than two weeks since Hungary sealed its Croatia border. Austria does not rule out barriers at a border crossing with Slovenia. Sweden re-imposed checks on arrivals from other EU countries. The Socialist Party in Denmark pledged its support to the government if it reintroduced border controls.

Bulgaria has already built a new fence along its border with Turkey; the latter hosts 2.5 million refugees. In Malta, the President of Lithuania defended fortress Europe, whilst her colleagues were harping on the need for solidarity. Hundreds of Syrian refugees arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos as EU and African leaders in Malta were putting the finishing touches to the Valletta Declaration.

On the African side, most African countries are led by brutal and corrupt dictators. There are serious doubts on who benefits from the huge amounts of EU funds to African countries. Most African leaders are unwilling to take meaningful actions to discourage economic migrants from leaving their countries. According to Peter Agius, head of the European Parliament Office in Malta, money transferring network Western Union extracted eight per cent from the amount sent by migrants in Europe towards their families.

The Valletta Summit did come up with positive proposals – namely actions to create jobs in countries of origin and transit, the establishment of regional development programmes in central and north Africa, the doubling of the number of students in Erasmus Plus programmes, and the setting up of a joint investigation team in Niger to fight migrant trafficking and then develop it in other countries. The latter is, perhaps, the most significant proposal made at the Valletta Summit. If implemented, it will see a joint effort between EU and African states to combat people smuggling.

However, and despite pooled efforts and strong political declarations, the outcome of the Valletta Summit was predictable – as are all EU Summits on migration. The EU leaders’ solution has always been, this time too, to throw money at the problem. This time, it was a significant amount of money – an Emergency Trust Fund of 1.8 billion euros to assist African countries in their development and encourage them to take back nationals who migrated to Europe.

Admittedly, the EU has been at the forefront to help African countries deal with the mass displacement of people, contrary to UAE countries who, despite their unlimited financial resources, have failed to walk the talk and help people in need. However, most of the initiatives taken by the EU – such as Frontex – have failed miserably and at the Valletta Summit the only solution that EU leaders could think of was to throw money at the problem. 

The ethnic background of refugees has changed significantly over the recent decades. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, it was mostly Europeans. Now most are Muslims from Africa and the Middle East. The closing of borders and the reinforcement of border controls exposed serious faults with the EU and awakened old fears in Europe.

The action plan adopted at the end of the Valletta Summit promised cooperation between EU and African countries on economic development but no significant achievements were made on migrant re-admission programmes. No mention was made on the setting up of refugee camps in North Africa. 

It was all about strong political declarations; pilot projects; promises for pooled resources; commitments to improve intelligence-gathering, and promises to reinforce the protection of refugees and other displaced persons. No concrete action was taken to address the problem at source. No proposals were made for concrete action in Libya – a key North African country in the operation of people smugglers.  

As long as there is misery, people will flee it. If we want to help them, throwing money at the problem is not the solution. Collective responsibility is needed – and despite talk to the contrary, this was clearly lacking at the Valletta Summit. 

EU governments continue to engage in a blame game, whilst Brussels is impotent when it comes to immigration and unable to impose a common policy. Most of the African leaders are unwilling to cooperate. The Valletta Summit was a good initiative on Malta’s part but its outcome predictable. Another, expensive, talking shop much to the consternation of European taxpayers and an insult to the thousands of displaced people who continue to take desperate measures to flee from desperate situations. New Summit, same old story. EU leaders have gone back and forth over the human tragedy of migration. When will this panto be finally over?

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