Statement by Christa Schweng, President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Laurenţiu Plosceanu, President of the Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship (SOC), Paul Soete, President of the Thematic Study Group on Immigration and Integration (IMI), Cristian Pîrvulescu, President of the Group on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law (FRRL), Dimitris Dimitriadis, President of the Section for External Relations (REX)
We are deeply concerned at the humanitarian crisis that thousands of Afghan, Iranian and Pakistani migrants are currently facing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Regrettably, migrants are also experiencing the same inhumane treatment at other external borders of the EU and in countries such as Libya and Turkey, where they have been stranded on their way to the EU.
For weeks now, around 2 500 people, many of whom are unaccompanied minors, families with children and elderly people in need of medical assistance, have been left without basic shelter and are struggling to survive hunger, thirst and the freezing Balkan temperatures after the Lipa refugee camp in north-eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina was burned down and closed.
We welcome the EU's decision to provide an additional EUR 3.5 million on top of the EUR 88 million already channelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last three years for the reception of migrants and refugees. The responsibilities of the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities, at all levels, are extremely serious. Notably, the Bira Centre – just 30 km away from Lipa - which was refurbished and made winter-proof using EU support, should immediately be opened to migrants in order to provide them with appropriate shelter.
Financial incentives cannot be the only answer to managing migration at the EU's external borders. We need to implement long-lasting solutions based on solidarity and responsibility among Member States and their neighbouring countries. We also need safe migration routes and better living conditions in the countries of origin, which can be achieved through political, economic and social policies.
We are particularly pleased with the discussions that took place with Commissioner Ylva Johansson at the last EESC plenary session, on 27-28 January, where we discussed ways forward for the adoption of the New EU Pact on Migration and Asylum. At that plenary, the EESC adopted its opinion on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which contains a number of proposals for striking a better balance between solidarity and responsibility among Member States when it comes to managing migration flows. The EESC will adopt its position on the proposals' details in two further opinions: on asylum management (SOC/669) and asylum procedure (SOC/670), at its plenary session on 24-25 February.
The EU must send a clear message that migration can be better managed collectively.
The New Pact is an opportunity for us to – at last – move forward and create a sound common basis for action on migration and asylum issues. This opportunity must not be wasted.