Thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you today the main elements of the "Joint Way Forward on migration issues".
This document was signed on 2 October between Afghanistan and the EU.
It should be seen not only in the context of the EU-Afghan relations but more importantly in the context of the EU's new Partnership Framework with third countries under the European Agenda on Migration.
This initiative falls under the package of efforts to address the ongoing migratory crisis and was welcomed by the last European Council.
More than a year ago, we adopted the EU Agenda on Migration which this House has welcomed.
The EU Agenda on Migration has set our common strategy on the basis of this principle: a common challenge demands a common European response.
It demands a comprehensive policy which includes both short and long term solutions and a coordinated approach of our internal and external policies, in order to address all aspects of the phenomenon.
Preventing the irregular migration is one of the issues that demand a long term policy and engagement with key third countries.
Our engagement therefore with Afghanistan, along with other key countries of origin, is part of this comprehensive approach.
It is in this spirit that the EU and Afghanistan have decided to bring their cooperation to the next level.
Let me stress the overall picture: Europe has faced unprecedented big number of irregular migrants of Afghan origin in 2015 and during 2016 Afghans continued to represent the second largest group of irregular migrants to the EU.
A large part of them will most likely be eligible for international protection: either because they belong to specific categories of persons or because they are originating from certain areas of the country.
I don’t have to repeat that every Asylum seeker goes through a due and fair process respecting her/his rights according to EU law.
Those who will be not be eligible to international protection will have to be returned, and this is exactly the issue which required to be addressed with the Afghan authorities.
The Afghan authorities do not contest the international law principle of readmitting their nationals found in an irregular position.
They are however concerned for the impact of their return, for those who return and for their receiving communities as well.
This issue has to be adequately and proactively managed.
Their concern, which the EU shares, is moreover amplified by the fact that, other neighbouring countries, notably Pakistan and Iran, are already returning thousands of irregular Afghan migrants back to Afghanistan.
These returns are happening without any accompanying measure in favour of those who return and of the communities that will receive and reintegrate them.
Until the 2nd of October the EU did not have any cooperation framework with Afghanistan .
This situation had created mistrust with limited possibilities for dialogue and cooperation but also incertitude for the migrants.
The only-ones profiting of the lack of a cooperation framework were the criminal organisations dealing with migrant smuggling.
Now we have this framework for dialogue and cooperation, to discuss the issues of: return, readmission and reintegration of the irregular migrants in a comprehensive, balanced and sustainable manner.
This will also help to address the concerns of the Afghan Authorities I mentioned before.
I would like to give you now an overview of what the "Joint Way Forward" is, and what it is not, and what its key elements are.
Let me start by reminding that the Joint Way Forward does not refer to persons having been granted an international protection status in the EU or whose international protection request is still being examined.
It only covers the irregular migrants: persons who either have not requested asylum or whose asylum claim has been rejected and they have no right to stay in the EU.
In all cases the principle of non refoulement will be preserved and respected.
Secondly, the Joint Way Forward is not a legally binding international agreement; it does not set out new obligations.
It represents rather a joint declaration, in which are described the various initiatives which the EU and Afghanistan, in accordance with their authority and internal procedures, intend to implement in order to organise: the return, readmission and reintegration of the irregular migrants, while preventing further irregular migration flows.
This declaration will enhance the mutual trust between the two parties.
It proves that both the EU and Afghanistan are committed to address the irregular migration phenomenon in a comprehensive, balanced and human manner.
Thirdly, I would like underline that, the Joint Way Forward – goes in fact much beyond the return of irregular migrants.
It does not only describe how Member States and Afghan authorities will organise an orderly return of the irregular migrants.
It encompasses several other initiatives, helping to give to this challenge a sustainable solution in a spirit of partnership.
For instance, it also covers measures aimed at preventing further departures of irregular migrants – such as: campaigns to sensitize the population to the risks of irregular migration and capacity-building to fight against migrant smuggling.
It also underlines that, in line with the EU legislation, the EU side will give the necessary consideration to humanitarian aspects to ensure that vulnerable groups of migrants receive: adequate protection, assistance and care throughout the whole process.
In this context, the Joint Way Forward stresses the intention of the EU to support the country as much as possible with the challenging task of sustainable reintegration of those who return.
As mentioned earlier, Afghanistan is facing unprecedented migration challenges.
It is in this spirit that the Commission is developing an important multi-country programme to assist returning migrants, members of their communities and the local authorities.
The interventions foreseen under this programme will include: vocational training and skills development, strengthening of local communities, and improvement of the migration management systems and policies.
This programme comes in addition to the existing bilateral development cooperation, which addresses some of the root causes of irregular migration, for example as concerns the availability of basic services or economic opportunities.
It represents just one aspect of the much broader financial and technical support which the European Union and its Member States have been giving and as reiterated at the Brussels Conference of 5 October – will continue to give to Afghanistan, to promote its overall stabilisation and development.
The Joint Way Forward represents the beginning of a dialogue and cooperation, for the EU and the Member States with the Afghan Authorities.
Nothing should be taken for granted. Patient work and mutual respect in a spirit of partnership will ensure the effective success of the initiatives described in The Joint Way Forward.
From the Commission side, I can ensure you our full commitment to make the Joint Way Forward a success story, with a positive outcome for the EU, for Afghanistan and in particular for the Afghani migrants involved.
And I can conclude by reassuring you that I am committed to come and inform you on the state of play of the Joint Way Forward whenever you will request it in the future.
Thank you for all your interventions.
I also take duly notice of all your remarks and recommendations.
I would like to conclude by inviting you, once more time, to look at the Joint Way Forward in a positive light.
To look at it as a tool which –although having only the modest status of a mere joint declaration- can contribute to start the dialogue and cooperation between the EU and Afghanistan in migration issues.
It will serve as a bridge of provisional nature allowing the two sides to meet and discuss to start practical work and to build their mutual trust in addressing common challenges.
It took note of what Ms Bjork said before.
Any decision regarding a possible return of children is based on an individual assessment of best interest of the child.
According to the provisions of relevant EU legislation. I remind you the return directive.
IOM has established the systems of referral and support.
The unaccompanied minors who will be returned to Afghanistan will be assisted in the framework of the EU funding reintegration project by the Afgan authorities and the IOM-Kabul, who has already put in place an effective referral support system.
In 2016 only a very low percentage of voluntary returnees from Europe were unaccompanied minors.
As I already stressed, the non-legally binding nature of the Joint Way Forward, gives us no guarantee that its provisions will be effectively implemented by the Afghani authorities.
The situation of the country remains difficult at all levels. And yes we have exhausted all means in order to bring back peace and stability in the region. It remains one of the priorities of the EU.
But, the poverty, the instability, the insecurity, and now also the emergency created by the massive return of migrants from Pakistan and Iran, will make its implementation challenging.
This being said, believe that the EU and the Member States should to do their best to support the Afghani authorities to cooperate on the basis of the Joint Way Forward.
Should this cooperation work, it would represent an effective game changer:
Not only, because it would help solving one of the key challenges for Europe, namely the return of irregular migrants and the prevention of further arrivals of irregular migrants, but most importantly because it would have a positive impact on the Afghan society, by enhancing its capacity to provide assistance to the returnees and their receiving communities, and by supporting those deciding not to emigrate from the country, to build up for themselves brighter opportunities at home.
From the Commission side, I conclude by reiterating, once more time, our full commitment to make the Joint Way Forward a success story.
But also,to come and inform you on its implementation, whenever you will request it in the future.