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The human side of migration is timeless and universal

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My agenda this week is under the sign of migration: I will visit the Red Star Line Museum, open the 5th Meeting of the European Migration Forum and have a meeting with his Excellency John Issam Darwish, Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Furzol, Zahle and the Bekaa, to talk about his work with refugees along the Lebanese border. But also visit Ireland on Monday, a land that like Italy has seen so many of its nationals leave their country in search of a better future, a country that today is fearing the outcome of Brexit, which was triggered precisely by the fear of migrants coming from Poland or Romania.

The visit to the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp is particularly important to me. The current political climate tells me that we need to reflect on the history and realities of emigration and immigration.

The Red Star Line Museum is a special place as it focuses on the insightful stories of the many passengers who travelled from Antwerp, the Red Star Line's main European port, to America between 1873 and late 1934. Two million passengers travelled on board Red Star Line ships to North America in search of happiness and a better future. These touching stories show that migration and human mobility have always existed. 

We cannot deny that migration is a constant part of European history and cultural exchange. Instead, we have to understand contemporary migration in a larger scope. Surely, migration will be one of the most prominent, divisive and potentially decisive topics in the forthcoming European elections and that is why it is even more important to address it.

We will certainly do so at the EESC at this week's 5th Meeting of the European Migration Forum. This event has developed from the European Integration Forum and we have been organising it jointly with the European Commission for 10 years. It will offer a platform for fruitful discussions on migration and for gathering good practices when it comes to the role of local authorities and civil society in managing migration and ensuring safe and regular pathways to the EU.

I am deeply worried about the plight of migrants having to make their way to Europe in an irregular and very dangerous way. The EESC continues to highlight the need for more safe and regular pathways to the EU. As much as I am worried about the situation of migrants, I am worried about the current political debate.

The European debate often focuses on the disadvantages brought about by immigration, but the opposite is true and rarely on the agenda. A flourishing EU society without safe and orderly, EU-supported labour migration is unthinkable.

Raising fences and building walls is not an option in a world of responsible and humane leaders. We need to work together because migration requires a coordinated European response involving ALL Member States.

The EU must have a forward-looking and comprehensive European migration and asylum policy based on solidarity, a key objective for the European Union. It is inadmissible that until today we have not found a way to review the Dublin regulation. We need to stop with irrational rationale and embrace ambitious pragmatism.

I am also very grateful that I will have the opportunity this week to meet with his Excellency John Issam Darwish, Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Furzol, Zahle and the Bekaa, who will share first-hand information of the evolution of the situation of refugees along the Lebanese border, where he has been working from the beginning of the conflict.

Let us not think in numbers but understand that behind these numbers are people in need. And let us remember to be humane and follow the example of so many inspiring Europeans who have shown great solidarity and generosity. Dionysis Avranitakis, the Greek baker who offered 100 kilograms of bread every day to refugees arriving on the Greek island of Kos, has been one of them. Arvanitakis was raised in a poor family of 10 children and migrated to Australia at the age of 16. He eventually returned to Greece in 1970 and opened a bakery with his savings. At the time, he said "I know what it feels like to have nothing."

When comparing migration in the past and present, we realise that migration might have a different face these days. But the human side of migration is timeless and universal. The history of humanity is founded on it. We have been a continent of migrants for centuries, now we have become the promised land for many.

Let's not shut our doors as we would be unfair. Let's face this responsibility with openness and dignity.

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