Good morning everybody.
Dear Minister Lamorgese, dear Ministers.
I am very grateful to Italy and in particular to Minister Lamorgese for organising and hosting this important conference.
I am very glad you are all here. Although I would much prefer to meet for the first time in person, of course I intend to travel and meet every one of you, as soon as the situation allows it.
It’s more important than ever to strengthen our ties as neighbours and partners, to combat migrant smuggling and manage migration.
The pandemic has an unprecedented and multifaceted impact on our societies and our economies.
On both sides of the Mediterranean.
We have all been very strongly affected. Your Ministries have been at the forefront of the fight against the virus. Covid has also had an impact on migration.
In Europe, Covid has shown the contributions migrants make in our society and economy. Working in healthcare as nurses and doctors, working taking care of our elderly, working in supermarkets, in transport. Refugees all over Europe volunteered to fight the virus. It’s very clear migrants are an important part of our societies.
There is a huge risk that Covid will hit the weakest hardest. Including migrants, displaced persons and refugees. Not only because of the virus itself, but also because of the economic crisis that will follow: the worst in a hundred years. We can only address this crisis by working together.
The European Commission has presented a proposal for a 750 billion euro Recovery Fund. Hopefully at the end of this week, the Heads of State and Government will agree on this fund. A significant part of that recovery fund is designated for the social and economic recovery of our partners.
We have seen an increase of smuggling activity. Some of those smuggled are refugees in need of international protection.
More people are coming to Malta and Italy and the Canary Islands.
Unemployment, deprivation and poverty could force more people on the move, and could create more victims of smuggling.
The suffering of many, is an opportunity to criminals and smugglers.
We are meeting here today, because we share a common goal. To prevent and combat migrant smuggling and to save lives.
We are not starting from scratch. We can build on a long tradition of fighting this common threat.
Last year, the gendarmerie and police in Algeria dismantled more than 100 human smuggling groups and networks.
The Libyan coast guard has been working actively the last weeks to disrupt the activities of smugglers.
Mauritania operates joint border patrols and has an ongoing good cooperation in Joint Intervention Teams with Spain.
Morocco is working intensively with the EU, and last year prevented 70,000 people from irregularly reaching Spain.
Tunisian police recently dismantled one of the largest migrant smuggling networks in Sfax, and arrested the group’s ringleader, known as “The Emperor of the Sea”.
Today, I would like to acknowledge your contribution to our common struggle.
60 per cent of all dangerous departures from North Africa are prevented.
And that’s especially thanks to your efforts.
Let that inspire us, to continue working together.
On these solid foundations, I would like to engage in a dialogue with each of you. I want to listen to your specific needs and then agree bilaterally on partnerships on anti-smuggling.
- Partnerships which could strengthen law enforcement to fight smuggling, with joint investigation and capacity-building, with our common operational partnerships. EU Member States contribute with staff and expertise.
- Information exchange lies at the heart of combating migrant smuggling networks. Our EU agencies, Cepol, Frontex and Europol can work much more intensively with partner countries’ law enforcement agencies. We could explore using the Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community (AFIC), and working closely with Afripol.
- Immigration officers from Europe already work side by side with colleagues from your countries. We can build on this experience and strengthen cooperation and deploy more personnel.
- Border management is essential to combat smuggling. We should continue capacity building and training for coast guards and providing equipment. That includes the establishment of maritime rescue coordination centres. And making sure these centres are effective tools to improve our cooperation.
- Communication to warn people and counter disinformation is another key element. Smugglers use social media to trap people. With false stories about easy crossings. With rumours about opening or closing borders, or boats that will transport them. We could do much more to inform people about the risks of smuggling.
- We already work with the United Nations. We have an ongoing cooperation with the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime on dismantling migrant smuggling networks in North Africa. And we should build on this work to do much more.
- Our joint work on voluntary return and reintegration of migrants in their countries of origin has brought positive results. The Commission is working very successfully with Libya, the African Union and United Nations on voluntary returns to countries of origin. We should continue and step it up.
We share a common purpose: To end exploitation. To reduce suffering. To save lives.
To achieve this goal, we must fight migrant smuggling. Dismantle criminal organisations.
We are neighbours and partners.
I would like to build strong and enduring partnerships with each of you. On migration management including anti-smuggling.
I am convinced we can build mutually beneficial, mutually reinforcing, win-win partnerships.
I am here, to listen to you and to prepare for concrete actions. In full cooperation with EU Member States.
I hope today will bring new ideas, new inspiration and strengthen our determination, to act together.
I very much look forward to our discussions.