Migrants and refugees have always been there. But helping them and finding the right way to manage the current migration and refugee flows to Europe has become one of the most burning issues for all of us.
We all remember the images of those makeshift boats, overloaded, pitching dangerously and threatening to sink at any moment. We all remember the images of those men, women and children arriving exhausted on our European shores. Behind their haunted eyes we see their hope of a better future. These images are an insult to our common humanity. They have roused us all. And they must spur us all to action.
Migration is a natural phenomenon, as old as history. Across the ages men have migrated, bringing great wealth to the societies that welcomed them. Migration is, above all, part of our own recent European history. Europeans left their families behind in search of a better future in the Americas at the beginning of the last century. They fled fascism in the 1940s.
Well managed and orderly migration is not a problem. It is a natural phenomenon which has to be managed. Let's stop waving the flags of fear and of hostility to others that help fuel the rise of nationalism and extremism. The real questions which must be at the heart of our debates are: what is driving men and women to risk their lives and to leave everything for a better future? And how do we manage and make these migratory flows a vector for the development of the countries of origin, as well as of our own Member States?
The real response that we should give is that we need to tackle the root causes of such a phenomenon. No wall, no amount of coercion, repression or security can ever prevent a human being from wanting to try their luck elsewhere. From wanting to give themselves and their families the chance of a decent present and a better future. From wanting to find elsewhere the safety, the security and the dignity they are denied at home.
The Heads of State of the European Union and Africa recognized this during the La Valetta Summit on migration last November. Giving hope, especially to youth in Africa, is a number one priority. The creation of a European Trust Fund to tackle the root causes of instability and irregular migration is a response to this vision. This will be done through a comprehensive approach which focuses on four objectives.
One: creating economic opportunities, in particular for young people and women. Within a few years, there will be 400 million young Africans entering the labour market. If we do nothing, we will be abandoning them to their fate, without any prospects, and they will become the first victims of trafficking and other such networks.
Two: increasing basic services for the local population in risk areas. Education, health and food security are the best guarantees of long-term stability.
Three: improving the management of migration flows, including measures to tackle criminal networks. I was discussing this very point with the Presidents of Ghana, Chad and Mauritania last week.
Four: strengthening governance and the rule of law, which are the best defences against radicalisation and extremism.
But we cannot do all this alone. It is first and foremost up to our African brothers and friends to focus on job creation, to prioritise their young people, women and girls, with their untapped potential, to pursue relentlessly the various criminal networks that profit from the plight of so many of their people, to invest in the deprived areas of their capital cities which, if abandoned, will become a fertile breeding ground for the extremist movements which are already causing such an impact in their countries today.
For our support to be effective, we therefore need the commitment of our partner countries. A lot of them have been hosting thousands and thousands of migrants and refugees on their territories for years. Countries amongst the poorest in the world do not shy away from welcoming people in need from neighbouring countries. Countries like Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Niger and Kenya should be assisted; they are our partners for better migration management.
This commitment of our partner countries extends to taking back irregular migrants. This is not a new commitment and exists for example under the Cotonou Partnership Agreement. Of course, the primary aim of the EU’s development policy and the EU Trust Fund is not to reduce the number of migrants at the gates of Europe. But we have to jointly manage migration, drawing on all our policies and instruments, in a spirit of partnership. We have to make migration work for development, and development work for migration.
This is the best way to build a broad and comprehensive legal migration agenda with our partners that would gradually turn irregular migration flows into legal migration, driven by free choice and aspirations rather than necessity and desperation.