Dear Laurentiu, dear Commissioner Johansson – dear Ylva,
I am extremely pleased to contribute to this 6th edition of the Forum. It is an honour to organise this key joint event in the field of asylum and migration together with the European Commission, and this, already for several years.
It is important to have such an occasion to discuss together, share our views and constructive proposals in order to move forward on a topic that has seen Europe divided for too long. I am particularly pleased that today's Forum takes place under the umbrella of the broader initiative Conference on the Future of Europe, which enables citizens from across Europe to share their ideas and help shaping our common future.
Due to the pandemic, our Forum had to be cancelled last year. However, the EMF Bureau members never stopped throughout this difficult period, and I would like to thank them for their continuous commitment.
Since the last EMF took place, the pandemic affected us all, and migrants have been going through great challenges, which they are still facing.
A new European Commission and a new European Parliament are in place and all EU institutions have worked to relaunch dialogue and find a common approach on migration management.
I would like to thank the European Commission for having proposed the new Pact on Migration as well as different legislative and non-legislative initiatives aiming at paving the way for a comprehensive package on migration.
As I mentioned on the occasion of the debate that we had this January at the EESC Plenary Session that you attended, I think the new Pact is an opportunity for the EU to – at last – move forward and create a sound common basis for action on migration and asylum issues.
As you know, although the EESC has welcomed the Pact, we stressed that the EU needs to strike the right balance between effective and realistic migration management that is humane and sustainable, while ensuring security and control of its external borders. We must send a clear message that migration can be better managed collectively.
The EESC has put forward concrete proposals to improve the Pact and its related measures. We have adopted six opinions that provide the views of organised civil society on the new screening regulation, on the proposal revising the Eurodac regulation, on migrants' return and reintegration and on the new Action plan on integration and inclusion, among others.
However, more than one year has passed since the Pact was presented and the lack of progress of the discussions at Council level worries organized civil society. I am afraid Member States, do not seem to have learned from past mistakes, and we still have a lack of solidarity and ambition in this area.
True, some proposals such as the revision of the Blue Card Directive or the transformation of the European Asylum Support Office into an EU Agency for Asylum were eventually concluded, even if after many months of debate.
Nevertheless, we do not see a real shift from a position, which is based on protecting EU borders and contrasting irregular migrations towards a real balance between solidarity and responsibility.
We cannot accept that some Member States opt out from joint obligations and that other Member States are left alone to carry a disproportionate burden in dealing with migration .
I am extremely concerned by the proposal put forward by a group of 12 Member States calling to toughen European border measures against migrants. I will say it loud and clear: the EESC opposes any attempt to legalise pushbacks and I am grateful that you have taken a clear stance that the EU budget will not be used to build physical barriers at EU borders.
I will go further and add that no walls, no matter the money used to build them, will stop migration. We need to abandon this securitarian rhetoric, which has not prevented, as we could witness only recently, that unscrupulous countries use migrants to threaten Europe's stability and cohesion.
Using migrants and refugees as a political tool is unacceptable, as this violates fundamental European values and the international law. Even if I welcome the sanctions that the EU has taken against Belarus, I continue to be extremely concerned by the faith of those migrants, among them also children, stuck at the Polish-Belarus border by freezing temperatures. And I am deeply distressed for the loss of life of the migrants who have been victim of this 'hybrid war'.
We call on you, dear Commissioner, to continue to insist with the Polish authorities, like organized civil society does it too, to be transparent, to give access to the border zone to Frontex, NGOs, journalists and observers and to protect people's lives first. Poland must respect EU fundamental rights and legal obligations and urgently provide the migrants kept at the border with adequate care and assistance and let them file their asylum requests. We cannot see more innocent people lose their lives.
Migration is too often abused as a geopolitical weapon. Thank you, Commissioner Johansson, for your firm stance as regards Belarus, against pushbacks and for rule of law! There is only one way for this situation to stop: that we agree, together, on a realistic, humane and sustainable migration management striking a right balance between the management of external borders and regular channels for migration, safe pathways for asylum-seekers and the integration of non-EU nationals in the EU.
In our views there continues to be too much emphasis on the issue of irregular migration, which constitutes a residual part of the migrant population in Europe.
We should fight wrong perceptions with facts. The reality is that migrant workers from outside the EU form a significant proportion of the so-called 'essential' workers: a category that the COVID-19 pandemic finally brought into light. Recent studies show that Extra-EU migrants account for more than 25% of cleaners and helpers, 17% of construction and mining workers and 14% of personal careworkers.
European societies would not have managed to maintain basic and necessary functions and services during the lockdown without migrants. This will continue to be so in the recovery period.
Healthcare and elderly care professionals, seasonal workers in agriculture and transport personnel regardless of their status have been instrumental in fighting the pandemic and their contribution to smooth economic recovery will be essential.
I am aware that this topic has been addressed in a workshop this morning and I look forward to listen to the conclusions of your exchanges about this and the other topics.
We are fighting hard to put an end to one of the worst crises of modern history. Young people, migrants, Roma and other marginalized communities and people of minority ethnic background have been particularly affected.
On the top of pre-existing inequalities, the most vulnerable suffered a further deterioration in living conditions throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Children of immigrants often did not have adequate IT equipment or internet access to follow online lessons during school lockdowns. Their right to education has been further hampered and without targeted policies, the gap between pupils of migrant parentage and their peers of native parents can widen.
These challenges are real and must be addressed. Citizens expect us, policy makers, to find adequate responses to complex problems like these.
The EESC has identified a number of measures and practices that should be implemented to foster migrants' inclusion and integration in our societies. And today's Forum represents another example of giving visibility to migration that works!
I wish you a good continuation of the Forum and look forward to hear the progressive messages that you will put forward during this Forum.