Time running out for EU amid migration crisis, says Minister

Migration – Article by M. Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior, published in the daily newspaper Libération

Paris, 2 September 2015

Migrants: France has not failed

The announcement, day after day, of new tragedies causing the deaths of migrants trying to cross Europe’s borders demands that we act quickly. Piled up deep in the holds of vessels, abandoned at sea, suffocated in the backs of lorries, their road of suffering appears to know no end.

Since the beginning of the year 340,000 men, women and children from the Middle East and Africa have taken the risk of entering this inferno. Those rescued are often taken in humanely, but sometimes also turned away when they are extremely vulnerable. While populists stigmatize them, others prepare to follow them, fleeing the civil war and persecutions they are subject to, or quite simply in the hope of leading a better life.

In the face of this migrant tragedy, no government in Europe, no politicians can avoid examining their conscience. Were we quick enough to realize the scale of this crisis? Were we able to show the diligence and generosity this extraordinary situation demanded? Were we able to keep the promise made by the Republic in the 1793 constitution: “The French people… give asylum to foreigners who, in the name of liberty, are banished from their homelands”?

France, however, has not failed. For example, we have adopted the most ambitious reform of asylum law in recent decades, to enable ourselves ultimately to take in all the asylum seekers on our soil with dignity and generosity. We are creating 8,000 new places in asylum-seeker reception centres, as well as 11,000 additional places to shelter migrants and rehouse refugees. In Calais, where there are 3,000 migrants planning to enter the United Kingdom, we have opened a day centre, are sheltering women and children, and are offering those in need of protection the opportunity to request asylum in France. Our policy there enjoys the support of the European Union, which has just provided it with new funding, as the Commission Vice-President announced on Monday, in the presence of the Prime Minister.

Within the European Union, it was on our initiative that the decision was taken a year ago to triple the resources of the Frontex agency, which is responsible for monitoring the Schengen borders and whose boats are rescuing migrants off the Greek and Italian coasts. Thousands of lives are saved in this way every day.

It is also following our proposals and thanks to our efforts that a comprehensive solidarity mechanism is gradually being put in place to ensure full respect for the right to asylum of refugees who arrive in Europe. Indeed, the number of arrivals means that the three main countries of first entry – Greece, Italy and Hungary – cannot take on this burden alone, as the European rules envisage under normal circumstances. We support the principle, as long as the crisis lasts, of a solidarity mechanism enabling a number of those migrants to be shared with the rest of the European Union. France has already announced that it will take in 9,000 refugees over the next two years, in addition, of course, to all those who apply directly for asylum on our soil each year. Likewise, reception centres known as “hot spots” must be opened in Greece and Italy.

Yet for this approach to be tenable, the Europeans must agree on a common asylum policy, as the President and the German Chancellor recommended last week. It is also necessary for illegal migrants, who cannot benefit from asylum, to be deterred from coming to Europe, where they will be unable to remain legally. This means that their returns should be organized and assisted, in full cooperation with their countries of origin and the transit countries. Consequently, France has proposed the setting-up of a centre in Niger before the end of the year to assist with returns and prevent departures, under the aegis of the International Organization for Migration. Many African countries are asking for such a measure, because they hope to spare their nationals the risks of a journey leading to death and because they want their elite to contribute to the development of the local economy.

In the long term, for Europe the real answer to tackling the challenge of migration lies in the development of the African continent. Africa is the world’s reservoir of growth and Europe must support this growth with a policy of cooperation geared to sustainable development and the control of population movements. This will be the very issue which has to be addressed through the Valletta summit, where the European and African countries will convene in November 2015 and which will be prepared in Paris.

The European Union and its member states have a responsibility today. It concerns not just the future of our peoples but the immediate survival of men and women trying to escape death and persecution. This is why I and my German and British colleagues have called for an exceptional, immediate meeting of European interior ministers. It will be held on 14 September. Time is running out for us./.

Published on 08/09/2015

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