Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
Refugee and Migrant Crisis in the EU: Discussion
We are in public session. Will those present check their mobile phones and ensure they are switched off? It is no good switching them to silent mode because they can still can interfere with the broadcasting equipment and we do not want that to happen.
On behalf of the committee, I welcome back Ms Barbara Nolan, Head of Representation of the European Commission in Ireland. She has been before the committee on many occasions so she knows the drill. Today, we will be discussing the refugee crisis in the EU. We have all watched it unfold over the summer months and members will recall that we had a special meeting in April, attended by Mr. Peter Sutherland, UN Special Representative on Migration, to discuss this issue. On that day, we were also joined by the Italian ambassador who will also address us later today. That gave us a useful insight into the situation in April but, of course, things have moved on significantly since then. Members will also recall that following our April meeting, we attended a meeting of COSAC in Riga in June and pushed a number of recommendations that arose from our meeting with the ambassador and Mr. Sutherland. I am glad to say that some of those recommendations were accepted. Today, we look forward to discussing the EU's response to the crisis to date and its future plans. We are, therefore, looking forward to hearing about both from Ms Nolan.
Before we begin, I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or persons outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I draw the attention of the witness to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee.
If a witness is directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular subject and the witness continues to do so, the witness is entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of his or her evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against an entity or an individual either by name or in such a way as to make them identifiable.
I call Ms Barbara Nolan.
Ms Barbara Nolan:
I thank the Chairman and the committee for inviting me today to address it on the Commission's response to the migration and refugee crisis. The committee will appreciate that this situation is evolving minute by minute and I will try to give it a flavour of where we are at currently, but we have a European Council meeting this evening of the Heads of State and Government and the situation may evolve even further. In fact, we hope it will evolve further following that meeting.
The sheer volume of people involved in this crisis is staggering. So far this year, the UNHCR estimates that almost half a million refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea and that approximately 3,000 people have died en route. An average of 6,000 people are arriving every day and daily reminders of the appalling human tragedy on our doorstep are to be seen and heard on our televisions, radios and computers. It is a pretty appalling situation.
This crisis is at the top of the EU's agenda. It was the main message of President Juncker's state of the union address earlier this month, where he underscored the need for a collective effort to find solutions to this crisis. Before going further, I wish to underline that a common European policy on asylum is not a new invention. There have been many accusations made over the past month that the EU has been doing nothing on this issue and that we are only waking up to the situation. This is not true. The EU has been working since 1999 to create such a common policy and to improve the legislative framework to deal with inward migration. The committee will appreciate that this is a very sensitive issue and touches the core of member states' sensitivities and responsibilities. It is not easy to make advances, or at least to make advances quickly, in this area. I wish to put that on the record because we have for many years been working to try to forge a common policy.
In January of this year, I spoke to the committee about the European Commission's ten priorities, one of which was the completion of a European agenda on migration. This was put up there as one of President Juncker's ten priorities. I also recall that this new Commission is the first to have a dedicated Commissioner, Commissioner Avramopoulos, who deals with migration issues. That is also a first and shows that we were already, more than a year ago, thinking this issue was going to be a very important issue in the future. At that time, of course, the focus was on developing a new approach to legal migration to make the EU an attractive destination for talent and skills. It was also about improving the management of migration into the EU through greater co-operation with third countries, solidarity among our member states, and, of course, fighting human trafficking.
Following on this and building on the work already done in the area in recent years, the Commission has proposed two migration packages already this year. The first was announced in May and the second was announced earlier this month, which was at the same time President Juncker made his state of the union speech. The announcement of the agenda for migration in May took place against the backdrop of the tragedy of large numbers of people drowning in the Mediterranean. I think it is fair to say that nobody foresaw the scale of what was to come. Calls for action have grown louder and they are directed at the EU member states and the EU institutions.
The migration agenda that was announced in May sought to identify what could be done in the immediate term to address the tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean.
First, it tripled the budget for operations such as Triton, for example, in which the Irish Naval Service continues to play its part, with the LE Eithne and LE Niamhrescuing around 6,000 people to date. It put in place an emergency response system to deal with the temporary distribution of people who had arrived at the southern borders of the European Union and were in need of relocation. At the time in May, the Commission proposed the relocation of 40,000 refugees from Greece and Italy, two of the countries on the front line of the crisis. Ireland responded by committing to relocate 600 of these refugees. This proposal was finally approved last week by member states and is set to be implemented in the coming weeks.
The announcement in May also included a commitment to set up "hot spots" in so-called front line member states, where EU agencies, including the border management agency, FRONTEX, would work together to channel those claiming asylum into the asylum procedure as soon as possible and also help to co-ordinate the return of those deemed not to be in need of asylum.
Conscious of the need to improve safe and legal routes into the European Union in the immediate term, the Commission proposed a system to resettle, to meet the UNHCR target, 20,000 refugees in need of international protection. "Relocation" means moving people already in the European Union to another place. "Resettle" means moving people outside the European Union, for example, those in refugee camps in Lebanon, to a safer location in an EU member state. I just wanted to explain the difference between "relocation" and "resettlement" because the terms are used interchangeably. Ireland responded by committing to resettle 520 of these refugees. The proposal also pointed to the need for a permanent mechanism to resettle refugees. It should not be a one-off; we need a permanent mechanism.
The agenda also proposed an action plan to tackle people-smuggling. We want to tackle some of the problems we are encountering at source before they manifest on our shores. In July the Commission at the European Council meeting sought to secure agreement on these elements. However, it also sought to secure a commitment from member states to improve the European Union's migration policy in the medium and long term.
Work on many of the proposals tabled in May is under way. Many member states have stepped up to the plate, including Ireland, and made commitments to relocate refugees. What are the most recent developments? I have mentioned that on 9 September, as part of his State of the Union speech to the European Parliament, President Juncker announced a second migration package. Obviously, it was needed following a summer during which many more lives had been lost and the crisis on the European Union's borders had intensified. In this second package the Commission proposed seven key actions which could be taken by EU institutions and member states to address the crisis.
The first key action is that a new relocation mechanism be put in place, this time to relocate an additional 120,000 refugees. On top of the 40,000 on which we have agreement, this brings the total number to be relocated by the European Union to 160,000.
The second key action is that a permanent relocation mechanism be established. This would require an amendment of the so-called Dublin rules, that is, the Dublin Convention.
The third key action is that a common list of "countries of safe origin" be agreed by member states which should be binding. We are confronted by people claiming asylum, some of whom are from candidate countries for EU membership. On our list some of these countries would be considered to be safe. We have proposed a list of countries which obviously has to be agreed of countries which we think are of safe origin.
People who are claiming refugee status should be returned to those countries because they are not fleeing situations of terror, etc., as is the case for many Syrians.
The fourth key action is that a common handbook on returns should also be available to member states, including guidelines on procedures to be followed, and an EU action plan on returns should be approved. The fifth key action is the removal of as many obstacles as possible to facilitate the necessary and urgent public procurement, that is tenders, connected with the refugee crises. For example, complex public procurement rules have to be followed for housing refugees so we want to make the system lighter so that the response can be faster. That proposal has also been tabled. We also want to make the rules on supplies of services for refugees lighter so that we can respond quickly to these specific problems. We also tabled a proposal from the EU's external action service to address the root causes of the crisis. Last but not least, we also proposed the establishment of a European trust fund for Africa, with €1.8 billion in spending, to try to address some of the reasons people leave their home countries in the first place.
Where are we now? The Commission has been working hard with the member states in the Council in an effort to achieve a united approach. Last week, when justice and home affairs Ministers met in Brussels, they discussed the proposals I have outlined above at length. I assure the committee that this system is moving very rapidly. Normally EU proposals have to wind their way through the system and it can take many months before they are on the table. The last seven proposals in the package proposed by President Juncker at the beginning of September have already been tabled, in the justice council that met last week. We are working in real time and at a very fast pace, in so far as we can move, if one likes, a very big machine quickly.
On the positive side, coming out of the meeting of justice Ministers, final agreement on the May package was reached. This concerned the relocation of the 40,000 people. Much work was also done by member states to identify Common Positions on other elements of the proposals. However, agreement was not found on the relocation of the additional 120,000 people. However, last night, - and I am now coming to the latest of the latest developments - the justice Ministers met again in an extraordinary meeting. There was only one point on the agenda, which was to find agreement on the relocation of the 120,000 refugees as proposed by the Commission.
Securing unanimous agreement on these measures at Council level was always going to be an enormous challenge. The preferred option was always to have a decision by consensus, but given the emergency situation and the need to move forward, the EU Presidency, which is currently held by Luxembourg, sought a decision by qualified majority voting. The majority voted in favour of the proposal to agree to this relocation of 120,000 people. In our view, the decision taken last night is an essential building block to moving forward. We are now in a position to relocate 160,000 people. This decision on its own is not going to solve the refugee crisis and this relocation is not a silver bullet, but it is part of the comprehensive set of actions I have outlined. We must now work on the next steps to improve our common European asylum policy and to address the root causes of this crisis through foreign and development policy.
The Commission hopes that this evening's summit meeting of Heads of State and Government will move the process further and bring the EU member states together. We have a tough road ahead to ensure we fulfil our obligations. On the one hand, we have responsibility and a moral duty to ensure that those fleeing war and persecution are treated with dignity and, on the other hand, we should show solidarity with those member states which find themselves at the front line of this crisis.
We should not forget that in spite of the many differences between member states, the EU is by far the wealthiest and most stable Continent in the world and that we have the means to help.
It is very heartening that the Government is among those member states going into these Council meetings with a clear commitment to play its part. President Juncker has reminded us that winter is approaching and we need to be prepared. We count on all actors, all those who can play their part in helping to alleviate this crisis, whether they are EU institutions, member states or NGOs, to work together. It is only by doing so that we can hope to resolve this grave crisis. Thank you, Chairman.
I thank Ms Nolan for her comprehensive comments on the response by the Commission. Before I invite members to question Ms Nolan I advise them that we need to limit contributions to two minutes. I hope I will lead by example. I will begin with my questions.
I note what Ms Nolan said about the EU being by far the most stable and wealthiest Continent in the world. I do not think this is a European crisis alone and we need to see more engagement and involvement from countries and regions such as the US, Australasia and others. What is the Commission doing to try to encourage those countries to get involved? I cite the case of the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s when it was seen as a world issue, not just an Asian issue. What is being done to ensure that other wealthy and stable countries such as the US, Australia and others are doing their bit to help solve this humanitarian crisis?
Could Ms Nolan indicate what the Commission is doing to address the root causes of the issue in Syria in particular? What pressure is being exerted? I read in the newspaper at the weekend that if Aleppo falls to the Assad forces, some 1 million additional refugees will be created but that if it falls to the ISIS forces an additional 1 million refugees would also be created, some of whom would no doubt make their way to our shores. What is being done to tackle the root causes of migration?
I am pleased to hear about President Juncker’s proposal to establish a trust fund of €1.8 billion. Could Ms Nolan indicate where the money will come from? Will it be additional money raised across the European capitals or will it come from the existing European Union budget? I will leave it there. The next contributor is Deputy Seán Kyne and then we will have Deputy Derek Keating.
I welcome Ms Nolan to the committee. I concur with the comments on the seriousness of the situation. It is one of the greatest movements of people that I have witnessed in my lifetime. We are not on the front line. We are part of the European community but other countries are very much on the front line. I agree that we have a moral obligation as a member of the European Union to play our part in the crisis.
Ms Nolan stated that for the past year the Commission considered there would be a refugee crisis in 2015 or at least there would be a flow of refugees. What is her best information on the medium-term to long-term future of the refugee crisis? Does she anticipate that this time next year, whoever is on this committee will still be discussing the flow of migration? Is there any information in that regard?
I concur with what the Chairman said about Syria. The information is that up to half the population of Syria has been displaced either internally or to refugee centres in neighbouring countries and the European Union. The issue must be tackled but that is beyond the remit of the committee. In most situations one has good guys and bad guys but it is difficult to distinguish between the two. It is a question of who is worse in terms of the Assad regime or ISIS. It is a very difficult situation for Syria. What are the prospects of an end to the displacement of people from there and for the situation in the area to settle down?
We are not a party to the Schengen Agreement but the pressure on it is mounting as the situation continues to develop.
I will make an effort to respect your wishes, Chairman, given that we have a very heavy agenda.
I welcome Ms Nolan and I thank her for attending with her colleague, Ms Eimear Ní Bhroin. The committee has just received a copy of the submission made by Ms Nolan. It contains some interesting and up-to-date information which allows me to bypass some of the questions as they are already answered in the submission.
I am glad that this is top of the agenda. I appreciate it is not a simple issue. It is a complex issue which requires a phenomenal amount of work. Some of the images are distressing and upsetting and not only where an effort was made. I appreciate that there are some countries on the front line and under pressure, and that we are that bit further removed and I respect that. However, one also sees countries not only endeavouring to keep people out but endeavouring to hurt them, to cut them with blades and sharp shards. I believe the Commission has a role to play in giving the message that this is not acceptable. We all saw the image of a young boy lying dead on a beach, silent through death but still speaking to the world. We must continue to hold that in our hearts and to keep the image of the dead young boy alive. The Chairman spoke in terms of it requiring not just a European response. I would like to know what the Commission is doing in terms of reaching out to the world as the situation requires a global response. These are words echoed by Peter Sutherland recently in one of his helpful interventions.
I thank the Chairman for arranging the meeting today as this is the issue of the day and will be for some time. I welcome Ms Barbara Nolan and Ms Eimear Ní Bhroin and I thank them for the excellent submission. We are all aware of the issues which arise from the turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East. This turmoil is the result of the decisions of the American and British Governments and others to displace the then President of Iraq and to remove the Libyan leader Gadaffi and others. These seemed like good ideas at the time but there was no long-term strategy. I commend the work of the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian Governments. At a huge cost to their own people, they have done enormous work in providing refuge for those fleeing from Syria and elsewhere.
Kuwait was rescued by the Americans and the Allies – my own nephew was with the American forces and the Patriot missiles. Young soldiers went out there to free Kuwait when the Kuwaiti Government fled to Paris. The princes there were restored to Kuwait without any elections. It is difficult to understand how, after the enormous sacrifices made, they have refused to accept any of the refugees whatsoever. Saudi Arabia has generously offered to build 200 mosques in Germany while refusing to accept any refugees. The United Nations, the respective Ministers and the governments will have to take action in this regard.
It would be preferable in many cases to retain good quality camps in the areas - supported by the United Nations - until this matter is resolved. If there is an influx of Shi’ites and Sunnis into Europe let us be in no doubt that they will be in conflict in time. This is a deeply serious situation which we did not create but with which we are, rightly, willing to help. Irish people have always helped in this regard. We were those people on ships, we were the 6,0000 who died in the 1840s. We are understandably aware but we should not blind ourselves to what is happening in the world. I commend the German Government which has, by its actions, increased the pressure on the rest of Europe. Germany is being flooded with refugees at present. It is a very serious situation. We need greater involvement by the United Nations which has been relatively silent so far during this crises.
I apologise for being so late. We were in session next door at the Joint Committee for Foreign Affairs and Trade dealing with somewhat the same issue.
This international problem is creating terrible riots within the European family. I am thinking in particular of the position of Hungary and Slovenia as two examples of unsympathetic and unco-operative European countries. Having said that, however, it is important to point out - this would be my personal belief - that this is not just a European problem, it is a worldwide problem. It is not going to be solved exclusively by the EU because the areas of conflict are outside the EU. In a sense, we are victims of other crises where there is an overspill from refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. They are overflowing and thus travelling from Turkey into Greece.
What is the position of the European Commission vis-à-visthe world response to this international issue? We have the UN, including the UNHCR dealing with refugees. I was asked by my local imam, when I was in his mosque after Friday prayers a few weeks ago, to explain why I thought all these Muslims are coming to Europe. I could not think quickly enough as to what the answer was. We are a liberal democracy and hopefully they see us as being free, open, accommodating and friendly. However, what is the role of the rest of the world in working through the UN to resolve areas of conflict? There is an important role for Iran, Russia and the UN. Saudi Arabia could have a role to play too. This is a worldwide conflict and we are trying to address it as Europeans. Can Ms Nolan explain the position of the European Commission vis-à-visother organisations such as the UN or the Arab League?
I thank Ms Nolan for her presentation. Sometimes I despair because we have seen many of the scenes in recent weeks and months, which are a repeat of what we saw 20 years ago during the war in the Balkans. They may be different people but generally from the same region, all seeking to move to a place of safety. People are on the move all the time. They are coming from war-torn areas where there is repression and fear.
I worry about economic immigrants because I am not so sure about that situation. I do not entirely buy into the arguments made in this regard. I attended a meeting in Luxembourg two weeks ago on the European defence and security issue. Climate change and this issue were discussed at length. Climate change was one of the contributory factors. There was a strong view that people from the candidate countries should be excluded, but I am not too sure about that. They may have another reason for wishing to move and it may not have to do with economic matters. They have been in that war zone for a number of years and know what it is like. They have had recent experience of it and they may not wish to go through what they see coming towards them in one shape or form again given the kind of hardship they are suffering at the present time.
The Chairman is thinking they are subject to the acquis communautaire.
In the Western Balkans, yes. They have an inbuilt fear of something coming down the tracks that they cannot quite define, but they know that it is not good and they do not want to go there again. The EU is making a mistake by saying it will not facilitate there concerns.
Once one puts up the barrier and does not show a willingness to help those in distress, whatever the cause, there is a price to be paid for that. The worst images of all are those of razor wire and barbed wire barricades being presented to people fleeing for their lives. It is a sad reflection on the EU and the global community, particularly the UN, that they have failed to grasp this issue in its initial stages. It would have been quite simple, as Senator Leyden said, to set up safe havens. They have not been restored since the Balkan wars. They failed there because they were not defended. That was the only reason, but they should have been defended. That option was and still is there.
I cannot for the life of me understand why we seem to have given over the management of refugees in that war-torn area to traffickers. They are organising to horde groups of asylum seekers together before putting them on the high seas and letting them sink or swim. That included women and children. We should think carefully about the kind of abuses that some of those unfortunate people are running from.
It is easy for us to say throughout the length and breadth of Europe: "This is terrible. We can't have hordes of people coming from different areas like that - coming to invade us by this invidious system." We are attempting to treat the symptoms of the system, but are not treating the problem.
The last point I want to make concerns what we will do from here on in. We should invoke the assistance of the UN in a meaningful way. In addition, we should recognise that there are a number of countries in the front line that have been making serious sacrifices for the past four or five years, yet they have not got the kind of recognition they deserve, or the backup support they should have.
We are tight for time, Ms Nolan. Many questions have been raised and it may be that you cannot cover all of them. However, perhaps you can choose the ones you think are most relevant and take five minutes to conclude.
Ms Barbara Nolan:
Okay, will do. First of all, several of the questioners have made the point that this is not only a European crisis. This is true. We have to acknowledge the huge sacrifice and effort that countries such as Jordan, the Lebanon and Turkey have made. They have taken in a huge amount of people and given them refuge. We should also acknowledge that, as far as I know, the United States has offered to take in at least 10,000 until 2017. Who knows, that may increase later on. Canada has also offered to take people.
We are exploring all avenues to ensure that this stays on the world agenda as well. It has become a European problem because these people are arriving here. We are physically closer to them but of course it is a world problem. Our vice-president, Ms Mogherini, who is in charge of external relations, is committed to pursuing all the UN options in terms of trying to get agreement about dealing with the root causes of this.
The Chairman mentioned Syria, which is a very complex situation. We do not have an army. There is no European army, despite what one might read in the newspapers sometimes. This is a serious situation that will probably take many years to resolve. I do not have a crystal ball. As regards what Deputy Kyne asked me, the general feeling is that this problem is going to continue for some time. Nobody thinks we are necessarily going to stop the flow overnight. However, if we apply these different elements in our armoury we can perhaps make some kind of effort certainly to stop the worst excesses of it, which are the people smuggling aspect. We will try to deal with that situation.
I mentioned the trust fund for Africa and there will also be a trust fund for Syria, which the EU will start funding. It is looking for other countries, including ones outside the EU, to contribute to it.
There was an announcement today about that. It is a global issue but I am speaking today only about what we are doing.
We are working with the UN. Obviously, on the ground we work with the UNHCR dealing with the crisis. We do have internal stresses. In the Schengen area some member states have had to invoke temporary measures, which are foreseen under the Schengen rules which provide that where there is a serious threat to public policy or internal security a member state may exceptionally reintroduce border controls at its internal borders for a limited period. Anything that has been done in that regard until now has been completely in line with what is foreseen under the Schengen borders code. This is not something we would like to see continue. We all value the ability to be able to move freely in the EU, it is one of the huge benefits of being in the EU and we would like to see the situation return to normal as soon as it can.
We always have provision in the EU budget for emergencies but of course there was already quite a lot of money going towards dealing with many of these issues before. We are now upping the game from areas of the budget that allow us to deal with it. We cannot reopen our multi-annual financial framework but we are doing what we can to boost particular areas. For example, even under the social fund, to which most, if not all member states have access, some of that money can be used for example, for integration of migrants, language training and such like. There is also a fund from the EU to support each relocated migrant up to the tune of €6,000, which will go to those member states that accept the relocation of migrants.
I thank Ms Nolan for her response to all the questions and comments. In respect of the issue I and several of my colleagues raised, taking the view that this is a global crisis, Ms Nolan said she was giving her own response. The greater question is what role has the Commission been playing or what further role can it play in exerting pressure and having influence on some of the other institutions, some of which were named today, that can bring about that global response. Can the Commission be proactive in that respect?
Ms Barbara Nolan:
As I said, it is top of the EU agenda. It is not just the Commission as the Heads of State and Government are also raising this in all the relevant fora. I am sure when Mrs. Merkel goes to the UN she will raise it too. This is the top issue. I agree with Deputy Keating we must have a global response. In the meantime, Europe has to put its own house in order, be united and show solidarity in the face of what is an unprecedented migratory flow. That is where we are at.
We are back in public session and will continue our discussion on this issue. I am delighted to be joined today by H.E. Mr. Matthias Höpfner, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Ireland, H.E. Mr. Giovanni Adorni Braccesi Chiassi, Ambassador of Italy to Ireland and Mr. Piotr Rakowski, the chargé d'affairesat the Republic of Poland's Embassy in Dublin. They are all very welcome to our committee and I thank them for coming in. I remind them of the privilege notice they will have heard me read to Ms Barbara Nolan earlier, which still applies.
We have decided that we will ask Ambassador Höpfner from Germany to brief the committee and will then move on to Ambassador Adorni Braccesi Chiassi and Mr. Rakowski. I call Ambassador Höpfner.
H.E. Mr. Matthias Höpfner:
I thank the Chairman for including me in today's meeting. The current refugee crisis is a challenge of tremendous proportions that affects all of us in Europe. It also affects the core values of the European Union, as a community of values, and we have seen dynamic developments in the European Union, as we have just heard. Yesterday there was the meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council and a summit is under way this evening. As already mentioned, these refugees are part of the global challenge. The UNHCR estimates there are approximately 60 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. It is important to note that 86% of those people are hosted in developing countries, areas less affluent than the European Union. In August 2015 alone, 105,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Germany. Among those, 45% were from Syria, 11% were from Afghanistan, 9% were from Iraq and 8% were from Albania. Germany is expecting the arrival of 800,000, if not 1 million, refugees and asylum seekers this year, which is five times last year's number. It is a huge challenge to all of us to provide housing, health care, education and a prompt and fair assessment of claims for asylum to this enormous number of refugees.
The vast majority of the German public is showing a great willingness to help incoming refugees. Thousands of volunteers have collected food, clothing and toys and have provided assistance for arriving refugees. In the first half of September, an average of 5,000 migrants crossed the Austrian border into Germany per day. Over the weekend of 12 September and 13 September alone, 19,000 migrants arrived at the southern German city of Munich.
This tremendous influx led to a situation where on 13 and 14 September, Germany temporarily introduced controls and immediate identity registration for refugees upon arrival in Germany at or close to the German–Austrian border. As Ms Nolan mentioned, this measure is in accordance with the Schengen procedures. We see it as necessary for security reasons and to better manage the influx of these migrants.
It is of central importance that we find a joint European answer to the refugee crisis. From Germany's point of view, this European strategy should include the points already mentioned by Ms Nolan. However, let me highlight four aspects of that strategy. I will start with the medium and long-term perspective. We need to find new political initiatives to fight the causes of flight in the countries of the Middle East and Africa. Stabilising failing states and curbing violence and civil war must go hand in hand with efforts to achieve economic development and create genuine economic and social prospects, especially for young people.
Our focus lies on supporting the countries neighbouring Syria and the Western Balkans. Germany has provided more than €1 billion in aid to Syria and its neighbouring countries since 2012. We have discussed with the European Union a means to step up its engagement in these countries, including financially. We have just heard there are concrete plans in this regard and a trust fund for Africa will be decided at the Valletta summit. It is also interesting that the structures and diplomatic channels provided by the Cotonou Agreement could be helpful. There will also be a trust fund for Syria. Following the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, I believe a new window of opportunity has been opened for diplomatic efforts to move towards a solution. This may be a chance to break the gridlock on Syria. However, it remains clear a political solution must be found.
The second aspect of a European approach is the need to join forces to deal with this tremendous refugee and asylum crisis. Many of the refugees arriving have left everything behind, have risked their lives and those of their families. These people cannot be stopped by walls or fences. Temporary border closures by several EU member states have shown that there is no alternative to joint EU management of the influx of migrants. Last week, the EU interior Ministers discussed the setting up of hot spots for the direct redistribution of refugees in Greece and Italy in an effort to establish a permanent system for refugee relocation. These hot spots are a prerequisite for more equitable burden sharing within Europe and must be made operational as soon as possible.
The decision taken yesterday by justice Ministers on relocation of 120,000 refugees is an important step forward. Joint European border management entails continuing and enhancing our efforts to ensure that the Mediterranean ceases to be a mass grave for people who have tried to reach us. Ireland has shown solidarity by sending two vessels to the Mediterranean as an important and life-saving part of the handling of the refugee crisis.
An important issue is the issue of solidarity among EU member states. The European Union is founded on the idea that when we stand together we can achieve tasks that we cannot achieve on our own. Receiving hundreds of thousands of refugees is an enormous challenge that we can master only when we stand together.
Today’s reality, in which only a handful of states shoulder most of the burden of this challenge, is just as unsustainable as a system that forces those countries that happen to form the EU’s outer border to take the strain alone. We have seen major progress in the EU fora in discussing this matter. The last weeks have seen the majority of Europeans react to the fate of the refugees with overwhelming compassion and readiness to help. It is certainly true for Germany. However, the number of those arriving has also raised fears. Europe needs a system of binding, objective criteria for refugee quotas for all member states that acknowledges their respective capabilities. Yesterday's decision was a major step forward in this regard.
Reliable burden sharing is the key to safeguarding the goodwill necessary to receive and integrate those who come in dire need and to fight xenophobic fears all over Europe. Importantly, it is also key to preserving the cohesion of the EU as a community of values. Germany highly appreciates Ireland’s commitment to voluntarily opt in by taking 4,000 refugees.
Burden sharing also includes immediate assistance to the EU countries that are currently under particular strain. Germany has bilaterally made available emergency funds to aid refugees on the Greek islands.
We need a more integrated European asylum policy. A common European asylum code should guarantee asylum status that is valid throughout the EU for refugees in need of protection. In the long run, we will be able to help refugees in need of protection only if those who are not entitled to asylum return to their countries of origin. The EU must make readmission a key priority of its relations with the countries of origin and be prepared to make technical and financial support contingent on constructive co-operation. To that end, we need an EU-wide understanding on which nations we consider to be safe countries of origin. All countries of the western Balkans aim to join the EU, and we have good cause to extend to them the prospect of accession. This means at the same time that, at least generally, we cannot also treat them as persecuting countries.
We have to act now and must not waste time. There are thousands of refugees, women, men and children, seeking refuge at the doorstep of the European Union. Many of them are wandering around in disarray and are becoming increasingly desperate. Winter is coming, as has been mentioned. It is entirely up to us whether we will unite to send out a decisive signal of humanity and compassion; it is our choice whether we will stand together in solidarity.
In a few weeks, families across Europe will celebrate Christmas with their loved ones and families. We will read and hear the story of a family on the move being turned away, a story that has set the moral foundation and value orientation for all of Europe. The decisions we will take during the next days and weeks will decide whether we Europeans will celebrate Christmas at peace with ourselves.
H.E. Mr. Giovanni Adorni Braccesi Chiassi:
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the joint committee on the immigration and refugee crisis that is occurring in eastern Europe and the southern Mediterranean. Today is the second time in six months that I have had the honour to tackle this matter with members. On 29 April last, I was here with Mr. Peter Sutherland, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for International Migration, to speak about the difficult situation on the southern coasts of Italy in the face of the continuous flow of migrants from North Africa.
This is a crisis that began a long time ago. I recall that this problem was one of the major points in the programme of the Italian Presidency of the EU last year, and we launched the operation "Mare Nostrum" in November 2013. Perhaps the relevance of this problem was not perceived at that time.
In any case, I thank the Irish authorities again for having sent two naval vessels to help all those refugees. If we are to quantify the assistance provided by the European partners we can say that in the last few months they have taken on a third of all rescue operations in the Sicilian channel. I also note the fact that Ireland has decided to take 4,000 asylum seekers in the last few days.
The problem of migration and refugee flows is one which will be with us for many years to come. It is a world issue. I was surprised but very pleased to read that the United States is willing to take, apparently, 100,000 refugees in the coming months. However, this problem has two sides. On the one hand there are those who are leaving their countries of origin for reasons which I would define as political and who are asylum-seekers; on the other there are those who are leaving their countries mainly for economic reasons and, therefore, have a quite different profile. There are different demographic dynamics in Africa and Europe. In 2050 the population of Europe will be reduced from 730 million to 700 million, while in Africa the population will rise from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion. That will continue to push population masses to seek better living conditions on this side of the Mediterranean. Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that the crisis which is occurring in countries such as Libya, Syria and Iraq will be solved in the short term.
However, to have a clearer picture of the crisis it is worth quoting some figures. In the past 18 months, 130,000 migrants were rescued exclusively by the Italian armed forces in the Mediterranean, and the numbers are rising. Last weekend, approximately 5,000 more people were rescued. In 2015, it is estimated that 200,000 migrants have transited from Libya to Italy, while for Greece the figures are even higher at 400,000 men, women and children. It is clear that a problem of this magnitude cannot be faced individually by any single European country for many different reasons. One of these, and one which is of great concern to public opinion in our Union, is the question of security and, therefore, first is the question of the identification of thousands and thousands of migrants. This is anything but a simple operation. Only a co-ordinated and joint action on the part of the European Union can attempt to define and set in motion an efficient strategy. Italy, which is exposed on the front line because of its geographical position, has endorsed the need for European action for many years. Today, at last, the awareness of this need has spread to many, even if not to all, European countries.
The European Union must assume responsibility and not just in terms of solidarity, but also because only co-ordinated action can attempt to channel and administer an event of such historical significance such as the one we are witnessing. It is necessary first to acknowledge that the Dublin regulation, conceived 25 years ago for a profoundly different migration reality, must be changed. The current context requires a much deeper action which can only move along the guidelines which were outlined in April by Peter Sutherland. Essentially, the European Union must define a common policy on asylum, to include uniform criteria for the provision of international protection and lead to the mutual recognition of decisions on asylum and to a mechanism for the distribution of refugees.
At the same time, it will be necessary to work at European Union level on the question of repatriation of irregular migrants. This will be a complex operation that will require the involvement at diplomatic level of the countries of origin and the location of important resources. There is no doubt that such an action will stand a greater chance of success if conducted in a co-ordinated and unified way. The repatriation of irregular immigrants which must obviously occur with respect to the dignity of migrants is an important step in the fight against criminal trafficking of human beings. This is an indispensable premise for serious policies on the reception of those who have the right to international protection. These can also go hand in hand with policies on the promotion of legal migration, which is more and more useful and necessary, both to counteract the decreasing population of many European countries, as well as for its positive effects in reducing demographic pressures and supporting the development of the countries of origin thanks to the flow of remittances. Furthermore, uniform criteria for the provision of asylum and efficient common policies on the repatriation of irregular migrants are a guarantee for the Schengen system’s stability which has been severely tested these past months. Freedom of movement within the European Union must be safeguarded as one of the fundamental pillars for us to stay together.
The management of migratory flows which at this stage are of a structural and unquantifiable nature also demands a strengthening of the European Union’s external action in certain contexts. The Commission has drawn up a useful document on the role of external action in facing the refugee crisis and reacting to the crises which are today the origin of the massive refugee flows towards Europe. We think the conference in La Valletta in November will be a particularly important testing ground in this context and point to the fact that the crisis is a world crisis. It will provide a forum for a wide and equitable discussion with our African partners on questions relating to development and aimed mainly at tackling the deep-rooted causes of these migrations and bring to the surface our shared interest in finding a way of managing them in a more ordered and mutually beneficial fashion.
Mr. Piotr Rakowski:
I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for inviting me to address this problem from the perspective of our Government. I will refrain from going into the detail of my written intervention, especially as the Chairman has noted we are lacking time; therefore, I will be brief. I am sorry if therefore I miss a few points. I subscribe to the majority, if not all, of the points raised by my colleagues, the German and Italian ambassadors. I also refer to the earlier intervention of Ms Barbara Nolan.
Our intervention which we issued last week has slightly changed in respect of the decisions already recorded at the Justice and Home Affairs Council yesterday, but I will try to describe the overall thinking which was behind our position initially and which I think will also be reflected in one way or another by our Prime Minister tonight.
The area of freedom of security and justice policy which cannot be handled by the instruments in this policy alone will form part of the context of a discussion on the migration crisis. This is not only the internal problem of the European Union. It is also put under pressure by the external aspects which then connect with both Common Foreign and Security Policy and external aspects of possibly a number of sectoral policies. That is why the thinking of the Polish Government was, as mentioned, to look at the context not only from the humanitarian point of view which requires an ad hocaction at the current moment but also from the perspective of it being a rather far and wider-reaching problem, which means looking at the root causes and the situations in countries which are the reasons for the migration of the refugees. It also involves working together with the international community.
This is a much deeper and more complicated situation, as was said. The issue of relocation and resettlement was also mentioned. I think we can talk about "the five Rs", as I would add the issues of readmission, return and reintegration. There is also the question of how to handle the issue of illegal and legal migration in the refugee crisis and of those who are readmitted and have to be able to live again in the country. The way they escape or the other countries could provide a place for them to stay must be considered.
In the debate on the crisis a matter which was also raised by the representatives of Poland was sovereignty. We were against an automatic system of quotas because, from the position of the internal and external perspectives, we were not sure they could provide the right message. There is already pressure and it might send a wrong signal that all this would be done automatically. We must look at the capacity of countries, not only at this moment but also in a potential future moment. In this respect, I subscribe to what the Italian ambassador has said about being a front country. Ours is a front country of the land border, obviously, and fortunately not under the same pressure as Italy. We cannot and do not forget the problem behind our eastern border which is also the EU external border in Ukraine. I agree that winter is coming and that we cannot predict what the situation will be if we have the humanitarian and refugee crisis of people coming from Ukraine. There are different scenarios. Some scenarios are not taking place. Those dealing with the current crisis should reflect also on the potential problems that may occur.
We do support and have agreed that there needs to be co-operation with third countries and countries with which the European Union has recognition agreements. In order to help, especially those neighbouring countries with a problem of refugees, there is room for further work to be done by the European Union. I was pleased to hear that information had been provided by the Commission on how EU institutions were also engaging in this respect.
As a country with an EU external border, we fully understand and subscribe to the mechanism and possibilities of the Schengen agreement for arranging temporary border controls. While we must try to manage different problems as they appear, in the longer term it would be a failure of the system we have created to secure the freedom of movement of persons that makes the border friendly as an external border for people to travel to. In this respect, we cannot go in the direction of just totally blocking on a permanent basis.
We undertook a number of reforms and efforts when we were in the process of accession. For instance, we limited the distance between our border control stations or border points from, if I recall properly, sixty-something km to 19 km. We have modernised the border control system, with non-military, police-oriented forces which can also work effectively on a mobile and permanent basis in handling the issue and the pressure. These are like the experiences of other countries, on which we can rely and use as a tool.
I fully agree on the points made about fighting illegal migration. The European Union and the member states have different agencies at their disposal. There was mention of a number of operations by Frontex and Europol in handling this, unfortunately, profitable business and the moneys spent in both trafficking and illegal migration. Efforts should also continue in this respect.
The final matter which countries are discussing and which is also, in a way, important is information policy - those countries which in a way are safe and those which are not and those with which we can co-operate.
The external context of the pressure of the refugee and migration crisis for the EU is also complex. We cannot compare the Balkans, Syria and Libya with one another, as they are completely different situations. The refugees are often mixed in with the economic migrants. Within the economic migrant group, we can differentiate between different people who are travelling to change their lives economically and those whose daily or annual incomes are too low to survive. In this respect what the UN and the member states may do and the kind of message we are sending to the international community concerning how we can engage different actors is also important. I will conclude there. I thank the Chairman and other committee members.
Thank you very much, Mr. Rakowski. I will try to limit my comments to a couple of minutes. Ambassador Höpfner, I was in Berlin when the Chancellor announced her decision about the numbers of migrants. I was very impressed by the way in which ordinary people there seemed to open their hearts and doors on this issue. It was an example to all of us in the rest of Europe and it helped to move the debate on significantly.
While I was there, I spoke to some members of the Bundestag who explained that 30% of arrivals were actually from Balkan countries and were more economic migrants as opposed to refugees. Bearing in mind that many of these countries are accession states on their way to full EU membership, what is the internal debate about perhaps extending the visa programmes for such people, bearing in mind that hopefully in a short number of years they will be full members of the EU?
I also have a question for Ambassador Braccesi. When you were here in April, you would have heard the debate during which Mr. Sutherland stated he was interested in looking at the option of processing migrants in centres outside the EU. Do you have any thoughts on whether that could be a runner? It was debated at EU level but no decision was reached on going down that route.
Mr. Rakowski, I know that Poland is a member of the Visegrád group. What are your views on fellow members of the group and their attitude to this crisis? You mentioned about potentially seeing a significant influx of refugees from the Ukraine. Have you discussed burden sharing with other members of the Visegrád group in the event, which we all hope will not happen, that Poland sees a significant increase in numbers of Ukrainian refugees? How would you expect fellow members of the Visegrád group to react to that?
The next questioner is Deputy Seán Kyne.
Thank you, Chairman. I would like to welcome the two ambassadors and Mr. Rakowski. I have a couple of questions for them. Can Ambassador Höpfner comment on the implications of the whole crisis in relation to Schengen agreement and the open borders? It is often said that his country needs migrants because there is work and the population is ageing. Does he accept that other countries do not have this capacity? Does that impact on his country's response to this or does he feel it is somewhat welcome? As the Chairman said, Germany is unique in this regard, so are there issues for that policy.
Does Ambassador Braccesi have any comments to make on the Schengen Agreement? From the outset of this crisis, Italy has been a front line country so what impact is the crisis having on the Italian economy, including services? What are the views of ordinary Italians about it? What are they saying about the situation?
Mr. Rakowski mentioned the Schengen situation but what do ordinary Polish people think of the crisis? Is there a view that Poland needs to do more or is there an anti-immigrant feeling there?
Thank you, Chairman. Abraham Lincoln once famously said of one of his generals, "McClellan has the slows."
One of the criticisms I would level at the European Union and the United Nations is that Europe had the slows in terms of dealing with this crisis. We have had difficulty dealing with the economic crisis. We took a long time to recognise its scale, depth and duration but eventually we got it right. Similarly, in relation to this crisis, Europe has the slows, and so has the global community. The United States and others only recognised in recent times that there was any responsibility or culpability on their part.
I compliment the countries on the front line that have made huge efforts to deal with the situation and to help out because when people are fleeing before whatever enemy, they like to see a friendly face somewhere. They do not like to see the barbed wire, barricades or glass wall and they will remember it forever. That could have serious implications for the people of Europe and globally at a later stage.
I say to the European Union that, if possible, it should co-ordinate its efforts to the extent that even if we do not have one voice that we have a general thrust of opinion in terms of how to deal with the situation. That includes the regularisation of processing outside of the European Union to bring about order. Why should unfortunate people, some of whom are suffering, who have come from war zones or are starving, be subjected to more torture by being kept virtually in cages while awaiting processing?
The United Nations needs to think very seriously about its responsibilities and how to deal with a situation of this magnitude and nature in a more meaningful way, as opposed to treating the symptoms.
H.E. Mr. Matthias Höpfner:
Two questions were directly posed in my direction. The first was by yourself, Chairman, on the comments made by members of the German Bundestag that 30% of the refugees arrived from the Balkan region. Indeed, that is so. I mentioned the number of Albanians alone that form part of this refugee influx in Germany. As I have said, in our view, we have to come to terms with the definition of countries of safe origin and if these are countries of safe origin, then special visa procedures or immigration procedures would have to take place. We cannot accept citizens of such countries as refugees or asylum seekers if their countries of origin are seen as safe. We tend to believe this is at least generally the case because we have agreed to give them EU candidature status, or they are on their way in that direction. It would be contradictory to see them then as a persecuting country, at least in general.
In Germany there is an interesting discussion under way as to whether we should not introduce a new set of rules defining legal immigration. We are looking in the direction of Canada, for example, where I have also served as ambassador and where they have a very successful points system managing something like 250,000 immigrants per year. It is a political discussion in the direction that we should define possibilities of legal immigration. That would take some of the pressure from the refugee situation.
The second question was whether the explanation for the current German policy is that we need all these migrants for demographic reasons. Let me clearly say, this was certainly not the reason for the German approach. The reason was the immediate emergency, the immediate challenge to core values of the European Union, challenges to humanity and to solidarity.
Therefore, it is mainly a value-oriented approach. Immigrants from Syria, who in many cases have a good level of education and training, may become beneficial for Germany and our demographic numbers are not very different than in some other European countries. There can be beneficial effects but the immediate motivation was clearly value oriented.
H.E. Mr. Giovanni Adorni Braccesi Chiassi:
I will answer the committee's questions. We are aware of the fact that it is much better to talk directly with the countries that the people are coming from. I am talking mainly about economic emigrants, because when people leave their countries for political reasons, those countries do not exist. We cannot talk to them. We see how serious the problem is in Libya - an agreement is always close but it collapses every day. There are certain countries that are very aware and willing to help to solve this matter, such as Morocco, Egypt and Lebanon. I was in Morocco at the end of the '90s and we had reached an agreement with Morocco that we would take 5,000 people from Morocco every year because Morocco had agreed to take back all of those who were entering Italy illegally. That will be a response to a global problem. I read that there are around 60 million migrants all over the world and Europe will need them.
I will answer the question. In Italy, we made the decision that refugees and migrants have to be distributed through different regions because they were concentrating mainly in the south of Italy. Public opinion acknowledges that there are jobs that Italians do not want to take and that only people coming from outside Europe will take these kinds of jobs. For a number of months there has been an increasing number of jobs given to people who come from outside the European Union.
There is a fear about integration and security. We have experienced a large number of immigrants in the past years coming from Albania and Romania, before Romania was part of the European Union, but those were coming from one country. These immigrants are coming from tens of different countries and they speak tens of different languages. How will they be integrated into Italy? There will be a problem of scholarship and how they will adapt to our rules. It is not an easy problem to solve. It is a problem that cannot be solved by blocking them because they will arrive one way or another. The problem has to be faced at a common level and we have to take into consideration the problems of the Italian people. Sometimes it is a struggle between poor people. There are Italians who are looking for houses but do not have them and they might get scared by all those people arriving and asking for the same thing.
It is a major political concern. The Catholic Church is doing quite a big job in order to explain and also to give a response. The Pope asked that every parish accept one family. It is the beginning of a solution to a problem, but it is a major concern. I believe there is a more positive attitude now that it is no longer just on the shoulders of Italy, Greece and certain countries. It is now on the shoulders of all European countries. Thank you.
Mr. Piotr Rakowski:
Thank you. I will first answer Chairman’s questions on the Visegrád group. Firstly, the issue of how to handle this crisis and how to look from the wider perspective was discussed on a number of occasions between our four countries, mostly at the level of Ministers of foreign affairs. There was also a summit of the four countries on 4 September in Prague. There was a joint statement of the Prime Ministers. The position and outcome, and the further discussion that would take place, would not defer from what has been agreed. All four countries highlighted a number of issues and looked not only at the internal perspective but also looked at the wider problems, the root causes for migration and the fact that migrant status has certain differentiations.
One of the key elements was not to introduce the automatic system of quotas just based on the voluntary basis and the capabilities of the member states. In this respect I think that the compromise that was reached yesterday does not, in my opinion, contradict what was discussed earlier and it is in accordance with the position of the Polish Government. As regards the Ukrainian situation, three of the four countries are neighbouring countries with Ukraine. The situation over there definitely was, and still is, an issue of concern. I cannot recall very detailed discussions concerning what might happen if the refugee crisis had potentially originated in Ukraine because it was not that specific and there is not the situation. However, the holistic approach towards Ukraine and the concerns on how the reforms are going, how the Visegrád countries may become involved in terms of support, how the trade and external pressure from Russia and how the situation in the Donbas and in Crimea would develop, these were urgent as well. I think that if it happened again it would be a point of rather deep interest from the countries within this regional grouping.
Now I turn to the Deputy's question on what is the current discussion on the situation on the migrant crisis in Poland. It is not a secret that we are in the process of parliamentary elections, the campaign has started and the debate is rather polarised. There was only one poll taken within Polish society and approximately 50% of the people polled voted against bringing migrants or refugees to Poland. This connects with the last part of my previous intervention - the proper information campaign. On the one hand there are polls which indicate the real scenario and then there is an image which is seen as extreme because there is a strong association between those who are against it – they are confusing the words "economic migrant", "migrant" and "refugee". This confuses the situation when people are fleeing. Then, unfortunately, there is the image of Islam which might be interpreted as ISIS and extreme terrorism, which is false and inappropriate.
It is difficult, based on this rather narrow point of discussion addressing the public agenda, to reach conclusions which will be long lasting. I would refrain from giving an interpretation of society's overall response to this factual situation. Perhaps it will be better in the future, when the political situation has settled, to really monitor the position of the society.
I thank Mr. Rakowski and all our guests for attending today. I believe we will speak again on this subject. Our intention is to invite more ambassadors from various member states to let us know what are their countries' views and what they are doing about this issue.