Dear friends

I am very happy to speak to you today at the European Migration Forum. Together with the President of the European Economic and Social Committee, Christa Schweng.

Last year, COVID forced us, sadly, to cancel our event. But now we are back. It’s a real pity we still cannot meet in person.

But I am glad to be here.

We can only properly address migration, with the participation of the Social Partners.

Because the best step towards integration is work. And no one knows the world of work better than you do.

You bring the voice of experience. Of what works, of what doesn’t work. You can share the voices of those directly living these experiences.

Our cooperation on migration is a fruitful one.

The European Migration Forum is one of most important tools of this cooperation. This is the 6th Forum. And certainly not the last

This year’s Forum focuses on recovery.

Recovery of our societies and of our economies. Following the pandemic that impacted so negatively all aspects of our lives.

This recovery can only happen if you NGOs, social partners, local authorities, are involved.

And recovery can only happen if migrants and migrants organisations are involved.

Without migrants, we wouldn’t have been able to cope with the pandemic.  Many essential workers, frontline workers, are migrants or of migrant background.

Doctors and nurses of course, but also workers on farms, in supermarkets. Delivering goods to our homes or cleaning our hospitals, our offices.

That migrants are essential to our economy and society should not be a surprise.

But for many the pandemic opened the eyes:

That migrants are part of “us”.

We must hold on to this recognition. Now we’re  looking at the future. To rebuild what was broken by the pandemic.

And we must reinforce and underline a more positive narrative on migration. We should not fear migration, we should not fear migrants. Our societies need migrants, and the energy and ambition that they bring.

Let me now give you an update of where we are today

Europe is facing complex, unexpected challenges.

The starkest challenge right now is the state-sponsored migrant smuggling of human beings by Belarus.

What Lukashenko is doing is new and unprecedented. State sponsored migrant smuggling. We explicitly added this challenge to our new Action Plan against migrant smuggling.

I presented this plan at the end of September.

This action plan is aimed at dismantling organised criminal groups, and adapting to new challenges like state-sponsored migrant smuggling

This Action Plan goes hand in hand with the fight against illegal employment. Which is one of the key drivers of irregular migration

Which is why at the same time I presented a communication on the Employers Sanctions Directive. To improve the fight against illegal employment.

Your role as social partner and civil society here is critical.

You are best placed to help Member States carry out existing EU rules effectively.

My initiatives against smuggling and illegal employment are steps forward on the New Pact.

The events on our Eastern border show the urgency of progress.

Progress on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum I put forward last year. A strong and balanced set of proposals equal to the challenges of the future.

And we are making progress. 

In May with the political agreement on the European Blue Card.

An important step forward on legal migration.

Introducing efficient rules to attract highly skilled workers to the EU.

More flexible admission conditions, enhanced rights and the possibility to move and work more easily between Member States.

The Commission has now prepared the legal groundwork.

But we need you to make the European Blue Card a success.

I ask you to support these new employees, these new colleagues.

Provide attractive working conditions. And give them all the help they need – to prosper in Europe, and help Europe prosper.

Another step forward is the political agreement to transform our European Asylum Support Office EASO into a fully-fledged European Union Asylum Agency. 

This stronger mandate should enter into force by the end of the year.

The reinforced agency will allow common operational standards, indicators, guidelines and best practices to help implement EU asylum law.

Constructive progress on the other legislative files under the New Pact is now crucial.

To protect EU borders.

To further strengthen Europe’s ability to manage migration.

To welcome those who have a right to come in. And provide humane treatment and dignified returns for those who don’t enjoy this right. In line with EU values and principles.

And the better we manage irregular migration. The more opportunity there will be for legal pathways to Europe.

Legal pathways to protection in the EU have been high on the agenda for many years.

And are again in focus because of the tragic situation of many Afghans.

Together with the High Representative/Vice President Borrell, I co-chaired on 7 October the High-level Forum on providing protection to Afghans at risk. All Member States were present.

I put forward the proposal to establish a multi-annual Support Scheme for Afghans at risk.

To combine protection efforts in the short term like evacuations and safe passage.

And medium-term (resettlement, humanitarian admission, family reunification and other complementary pathways).

Member States responded positively.  Several are considering specific resettlement and humanitarian admission pledges devoted to Afghans.

Others are working on complementary pathways for Afghans. Like “humanitarian corridors” in Italy and extended family reunification in Ireland.

The Afghan forum on protection builds on the success of the High-Level Resettlement Forum I organised in July to step up resettlement and humanitarian admissions.

Through joint leadership with like-minded countries, notably the US and Canada. Only together we can make a difference.

All relevant stakeholders were there. International organisations, Members States, NGOs including the Commission's expert group on the views of migrants.

Some of these experts are present here today.

I want to thank our expert group here today.  I thank you for your valuable time and input you dedicate to our work.   

Resettlement is not only about safe journeys. But also about a welcome home.

Communities should play a much stronger role in reception and integration of newcomers.  We know that there is interest and willingness to do so.

We have several EU-funded projects running to promote community sponsorship.

And our asylum agency is working with the Member States to help them put in place such schemes. This work will continue.

At the star of my speech I said the best step to integration is work.

But the first step to integration is education.

I think about Armen. The Syrian refugee. Who had to flee because he is gay. Went to the Netherlands through resettlement. And now speak Dutch perfectly. After following his dream – and completing studies in hotel management.

I think about an Afghan refugee. A teenage girl. A football player. Who couldn’t go to school or play football after the Taliban came. And is now in Portugal, wanting to go to school.

Access to education for migrant children is one of the top priorities of my action plan on integration and inclusion

Migrant children often face specific challenges, in addition to other obstacles they share with other children. Young migrants face higher risk of drop out, more than twice that of the local population.

We need to support our teachers, our school community. We need to make our schools a hub for integration, for children and for parents.

We also need to support our schools with the digital challenges that migrant children face.

The digital revolution, accelerated during the pandemic, is a chance.

But it is only a chance if well prepared and accompanied by support measures to all those that do not have the keys, the means and the equipment.

If you’re born outside the EU, your probability not to be able to afford a computer is much higher than if you’re born here.

Let me give an example a positive mix of integration and digital revolution: the RIDE project. Or “Reach Inclusion through Digital Empowerment for migrant women”. Funded by our migration funds.

Some of the organisations involved are actually present today (Unitee and Diesis).

This ongoing project offers promotes inclusion of migrant and refugee women into the digital sector. Through reskilling and upskilling with specially designed courses and possibilities to start working.

Let me conclude again on the roles that you, members of the European Economic and Social Committee, NGOs, local and regional authorities, can play to achieve better and more effective integration policies.

Many of you are experienced actors in this field and we need to continue to work together to make our societies more inclusive so that everyone can fully take his or her part.

I wish you very fruitful discussions for the rest of the Forum today and tomorrow.

Thank you for your attention.