Changing the way we approach the challenges of migration

Three years have passed since the tragedy of Lampedusa, in which over 360 migrants mainly from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia lost their lives trying to reach the shores of Europe. The cost of the perilous journey was over EUR 2,500 – an enormous price to pay - but for many they ended up paying the ultimate price.

Less than two weeks ago another boat carrying 450 migrants capsized off the coast of Egypt, with at least 160 known casualties. It's clear that the complex factors forcing people to gamble on a better future show little signs of abating. What's also clear is that this situation will not be solved overnight, or by the wave of a magic wand.

A question of solidarity

In light of tragic events like these, migration and forced displacement must remain high on the political agenda and in the public consciousness. Just last month the UN General Assembly held the first ever Summit for Refugees and Migrants, adopting the New York Declaration which underlines the need for global responsibility sharing. All countries and all stakeholders must join forces in ensuring we can live up to our commitments under the 2030 Agenda to 'leave no-one behind'.

With the launch of the 2015 European Agenda on Migration and the new Partnership Framework in June 2016 we have changed our approach and considerably stepped up our efforts. We have engaged in political dialogue and established genuine partnerships on migration with our global partners, addressing the challenges and opportunities of migration, both in the short and the long term.

The Valletta Summit on migration with our African partner countries is one example of this deepened engagement, coupled with comprehensive, balanced and effective implementation on the ground, through the Valletta Action Plan.

At the Summit we also launched the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, a crucial addition to our operational toolbox, which is worth almost EUR 2 billion. Its added value - concrete assistance launched in a more tailor-made, flexible and quicker way – has already been proven.

EU Member States have stepped up their efforts, offering legal and safe pathways to almost half of the 22,504 people promised in July 2015. And September saw the highest number of people – over 1,200 – resettled so far in a single month.

But given the global scale of the challenges we face, an even greater collective response is needed – and that means that we in the European Union must also play our part. The developing world is currently home to 86% of all refugees, whereas the world's richest five countries host less than 5%.

In New York we heard the story of young Alex who, on seeing the image of Omran Daqneesh in the back of the ambulance in Aleppo, proposed to "give him a family and he will be our brother."

Six years old boy sent letter to Obama about refugees boy Omran Daqneesh

Should we not take inspiration from Alex and have the courage to support those most in need?

The development-migration nexus

The same basic human urges which drove mankind throughout history to migrate are still at the heart of the migratory and refugee flows we see today – whether seeking personal safety from persecution and conflict, or to earn a decent living and provide a better future for their families.

In this moving story of twins in a Syrian refugee camp Sally explains "I want to return to Syria. I miss my family and my people. My dream is to go abroad and study there, to become a doctor, and return to my home country to treat people."

Four years of exile: Syrian refugees in Iraq

We need to recognise and address the increasingly complex relationships between our development, migration, security and humanitarian work. This is what we intend to do when we bring forward proposals later this year for a revised European Consensus on Development.

Migration can be a powerful enabler of development. And equally development can be a powerful tool to address the root causes of forced displacement and irregular migration. We need to create sustainable opportunities and decent jobs for people within their countries for origin, as well as for those returning home. This is precisely what we're trying to achieve through the European External Investment Plan, which I wrote about in my last blog post.

It's about providing opportunities for people like Christine in Kenya to set up her own business when she was forced to abandon her home for standing up for the rights of others. Or reviving local hat weaving skills in Panama for an entire young generation who were otherwise forced to migrate, simultaneously rupturing the fabric of local communities and families.

We must continue to be driven by these personal stories of tragedy and triumph – and not the faceless numbers and naysayers. The situation is complex and the solutions are even less straightforward, but as Europeans we owe it to others to honour our principles of solidarity, respect for diversity and to stand up for others in their hour of need.

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