Updated: Nov 16, 2021
By Alexandros Kassapis, Warwick European Society Correspondent and Editor
February 4th 2020; when the former EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos visited our University and delivered a speech as a guest of the European Society!
Dimitris Avramopoulos has been mayor of Athens, Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Health, Minister for Defence, as well as an EU Commissioner. I was honestly very delighted to meet a person who has played a key role in contemporary Greek (where I am from) and European politics.
Below is an extract of Mr Avramopoulos' talk.
The migration crisis coincided with several terrorist attacks on European soil. Both phenomena have put into question Europe's unity and fundamental principles. At that time Europe and its Member States were taken by surprise. It was my duty, as the European Commissioner responsible for Migration and Security, to build everything almost from scratch.
Today, we are not where we were five years ago. But still, a lot has to be done. Both issues will be here for many years but now Europe is better prepared. While of course our joint work is not finished yet, we can safely look back and acknowledge that collectively we have built the strong foundations of a Security Union and of a revamped border and migration management structure. Confronted with an inflow of irregular arrivals through the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 there was no consolidated European border agency, no hotspots or an operational presence on the ground from the EU.
The European asylum system was no longer fit for purpose. Our Information systems didn’t talk to each other and our approach in engaging with non-EU countries on this issue was fragmented. A perfect storm – coming just after a deep and protracted financial crisis that already created mistrust in institutions and politicians, and created the conditions for populism to flourish. It was clear that both on migration and on internal security, business as usual was no longer a viable option.
The Member States themselves had to understand first that the world around us is changing. That globalization and the geopolitical instabilities around the globe have moved humanity into an era of human mobility. More than 70 million people forcibly displaced and an estimated 260 million migrants around the globe are testament to this.
So the question that arises here is “What have we done to address these challenges”?
We have done a series of actions.
• First of all, hotspots have been established as an operational model to quickly and efficiently respond in Member-States under pressure.
• We put in place the EU-Turkey statement and as a result the flows have dropped dramatically.
• More than 2.300 officers are deployed from the European Border and Coast Guard, the European Asylum Support Office and Europol combined, at land and at sea in Member States under pressure.
• Over €11 billion in the EU's internal funding has been dedicated to migration and border management.
• Almost 35.000 people have been relocated within the EU from Italy and Greece, and on top of that more than 1.100 people have been relocated since summer 2018 under voluntary relocations.
• Almost 63.000 refugees have been effectively resettled to the EU, and Member States have pledged another 30.000 resettlements for next year.
• An up and running European Border and Coast Guard is being reformed as we speak to have a standing corps of 10.000 operational staff.
• We significantly improved our border management: We have tabled a full range of measures aiming at better protection and efficient management of the borders: on the European Border and Coast Guard, on the systematic checks at the borders and on the Entry-Exit System.
Dimitris Avramopoulos delivering his speech.
Collectively, we have made the EU better equipped to deal with current and future migration challenges. These initiatives strengthened our external borders and improved their management. Both in terms of migration, but also in terms of security in the Schengen area. Along the way, we have increasingly come to realize that this work is not only limited to what we do within our own borders. The 21st century will be remembered as the era of human mobility.
This is a global challenge, as we mentioned earlier, that we must manage with our partners. This is why in much of the work that we have accomplished these past years – political, operational and financial – the internal and external dimensions were more interlinked than ever before. Whether this has been our cooperation with Turkey and the Middle East, our African partners, or our support to the Syrian crisis– this has never been just about money or financial support. This has been about addressing root causes, reducing irregular and dangerous journeys, and directly helping vulnerable migrants and refugees on the ground.
In Turkey, we have supported almost 1.7 million refugees on a daily basis. The EU Trust Fund for Africa has offered basic support to over 5 million vulnerable people through 210 projects in 26 countries. And the EU's Regional Trust Fund for Syria has delivered over 75 projects worth more than €1.6 billion, focused on areas including education, livelihoods, health, and socio-economic support.
However, I cannot stress enough how essential the cooperation with certain African partners has been to truly fight, prosecute and nip these criminal operations in the bud.
These partnerships have helped to curb the activities of smugglers and traffickers there.
We have also proposed to reform our asylum system to be able to better offer protection to those who really need it for as long as they need it, whilst limiting abuses, secondary movements and asylum shopping. This of course also means returning to their home countries those migrants who crossed our borders illegally and are not in need or protection. These are facts.
These are actions that have a tangible impact on individual lives as well as on societies.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have built important foundations over the past years to better protect our citizens, to build a stronger and more united Europe. I do not wish you to get me wrong. I do not want to present the “ideal image”.
Yes, when you look at the big picture, the situation is much better. This is the honest story, which is not yet finished. But it is also a story that cannot be unwritten either. What we have achieved and accomplished over the past 5 years, cannot be undone. Our Union today is better equipped to face the future when it comes to challenges such as migration and security.
Because here we have to be honest too: the phenomenon of migration will be with us for some time to come.
The question will never be how to stop it, but how to better manage it.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, University of Warwick, February 4th 2020.
The Warwick European Society Talks Team 2019-2020 with Dimitris Avramopoulos.
What a talk! I was inspired by Mr Avramopoulos' speech to research more on migration, on refugees, on why someone would flee their home... And as my empathy grew so did my will to express my solidarity with all the unfortunate but brave people fighting to have a brighter future. We wish to express a huge thank you to Mr Avramopoulos for coming to share his story with us and to Nickolas Ntalipis for inviting our guest.
The complete speech is available here.
Interested in organisations supporting refugees? Click here to see one.
By Alexandros Kassapis , Third Year Law Student & Warwick European Society External Relations Officer and Europe Tomorrow Editor