Thank you Madam President,
Madam State Secretary,
Ten days ago a mob stormed the Capitol in Washington. Their objective: To overturn an election result. To hunt down lawmakers. To harm elected representatives, even to kill them.
They actually did kill a police officer. This was an attack on democracy.
That this can happen in the United States is a shock. It was hard to believe what we saw happening live. A tough reminder that we can never take democracy for granted.
Respect for human dignity, freedom, equality, rule of law, human rights – these values are at the core of our European Union.
We must live by these values, protect and defend them.
The European Union must uphold these values.
Our Member States must uphold these values.
Countries seeking to join us, must uphold these values, too.
As must our agencies.
When Frontex was accused of involvement in alleged pushbacks, the Commission called for a prompt investigation. We called for emergency meetings of the Frontex Management board.
And the board will meet again tomorrow.
When there were reports of alleged pushbacks at the Croatian border, the Commission called upon the authorities to investigate, as is their duty.
The Commission and the Croatian authorities regularly discuss how to improve the existing monitoring and investigations. In the context of these discussions, in November, the Commission sent a senior mission to Croatia, which visited two border crossing points.
The Commission is now working with the Croatian authorities to set up a good independent monitoring mechanism. The Croatian ombudsperson and UNHCR are also involved.
Together with the Croatian authorities we outlined key principles in a memorandum of understanding. And we look forward to the Croatian authorities to swiftly sign this document.
This is not a once off. It is an ongoing dialogue to ensure high standards are met.
Under the new Pact on Asylum and Migration, the Commission also proposed that Member States should be required to set up an independent monitoring mechanism.
Also in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Commission has been working to prevent a humanitarian crisis from the start. Together with High Representative/ Vice President Josep Borrell, Vice-President Schinas and Commissioner Várhelyi .
The current crisis is a humanitarian crisis but also a crisis of governance.
An unnecessary crisis.
A crisis that could have been avoided if the authorities had acted responsibly. Each day of this stalemate erodes Bosnia’s international reputation.
We knew the Lipa facility would be closed. It was set up this spring. It was always meant to be provisional. As the IOM had clearly signalled, Lipa was not built for the winter.
There is a ready-made fully winterised facility standing empty nearby, in Bira. This is equipped to house 1500 people. It was unlawfully emptied by local authorities last September.
On 21 December, I urged the authorities to reopen the Bira facility. Together with High Representative/ Vice President Josep Borrell and Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi .
That same day, The Council of Ministers of Bosnia Herzegovina decided to reopen the facility. It did so again ten days later. But so far, the authorities have not enforced this decision.
On 23 December, the Lipa facility closed. People were now stuck in the freezing cold without shelter.
To help these people and break the deadlock, I started calling our partners.
On New Year’s Eve, I spoke with Zoran Tegeltija, the Chair of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The day before, I spoke with Mustafa Ružnić, Prime Minister of the Una-Sana Canton.
And most recently High Representative – Vice President Borrell spoke with President Milorad Dodik, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We urged them to work together to provide shelter.
Commissioner Lenarčič announced 3.5 million euro in humanitarian aid. To provide warm clothing, blankets, food and medical support.
The European Union Head of Delegation and Special Representative continues to work around the clock to improve the situation.
Following our discussions with the Bosnian and Herzegovinian authorities, the army set up winter tents that now house around 900 people.
Generators, heating, wooden floors as well as food and medical supplies are on site.
Thanks to our action, the situation has improved, but only from grave to serious.
Stopping immediate risk to life is the beginning, not the end of ensuring acceptable dignified living conditions.
Winter has a long way to run.
And I must admit that it is frustrating to have to set up tents and temporary shelter when we have an empty, fully equipped and winterised facility just 30 kilometres down the road.
The Commission is fully committed to support migration management in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Financially with 89 million euro since 2018. And also with technical support. From the Commission and the European Asylum and Support Office.
We will continue our support. But Bosnia and Herzegovina must show it is capable of managing migration. It must take responsibility. Address the humanitarian situation. As a country with the perspective of EU accession, we expect Bosnia and Herzegovina to work on sustainable, long-term solutions. To set up facilities evenly distributed across the full territory of the country.
I’m aware discussions between local and national authorities can be difficult. The immediate priority is still to save lives. To stop a humanitarian crisis, from turning into a humanitarian disaster.
I intend to visit Lipa and meet the Bosnian authorities in February.
The key is in the hands of the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. At all levels.
They must show the political will to save lives and provide long-term solutions.
Of course we have an acute humanitarian situation in many more areas at our external borders. Time limits make it not possible to comment on all of this, but I am happy to come back to that in my final intervention.