Migration: The people behind the numbers

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Nearly 4,000 lives have been lost in the Mediterranean so far, as people seek to reach the continent. [Freedom House/Flickr]

Last year over a million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe. When talking about migration, we have to remember that behind the numbers are children, women and men fleeing war zones and conflicts, writes Antonio López-Istúriz.

Antonio López-Istúriz MEP is Secretary-General of the European People’s Party.

Some of these numbers cannot be forgotten. Almost 4,000 lives have been lost in the Mediterranean Sea. As of the beginning of June, more than 200,000 people had reached the EU by sea just this year. Among them, 35% were children, many of them unaccompanied.

We at the EPP have long been advocating a comprehensive European migration policy that combines a rapid response based in humanitarian aid with sustainable, medium- and long-term measures in order to tackle the root causes of migration.

We have been calling for a roadmap and tangible actions to fight unscrupulous human traffickers and criminal organisations which are building businesses on people’s desperation and vulnerability.

European citizens have unfortunately become too familiar with the tragic images of people’s lives being lost at the sea while trying to reach European coasts. The way we handle the migration crisis will become our legacy for future generations. It is a question of human dignity.

At its party congress last October in Madrid, the EPP stressed that cooperation with countries of origin and transit of refugees is crucial in helping people in need and returning those who do not qualify for protection, while at the same time guaranteeing full respect for human rights.

This must include greater coherence in the EU’s internal and external policies in the areas of foreign affairs, security, trade, development, humanitarian aid and migration.

In this regard, the Western Mediterranean model concerning migration developed between Spain and African countries of origin or transit, such as Morocco, Senegal or Mauritania and consisting in cooperation agreements, provides an example of best practice.

For its part, the European Union has also been taking the initiative in trying to address both the internal and external aspects of the current migration challenges. Migration was one of the ten political priorities presented by the Juncker Commission before taking office in November 2014, and the European Agenda on Migration, one year later, has been an important step towards a comprehensive approach based on solidarity among the EU institutions and its Member States.

Very recently, the European Commission announced its New Migration Partnership Framework based on reinforced cooperation with third countries — a policy very much in line with EPP proposals and built on the EPP’s approach towards migration as presented in Madrid in 2015.

To address the root causes of migration, the EPP has advocated linking EU development aid to cooperation and deploying financial instruments, such as the Trust Fund for Africa, to help local communities develop and to discourage irregular migration. For the EPP, it is of the utmost importance to reduce ‘’push’’ factors and to have information campaigns in countries of origin to let people know about the opportunities for legal pathways to Europe, dissuading them from taking dangerous routes and putting their lives at risk in the hands of smugglers.

The EPP has translated this will to cooperate with countries of origin and transit into action: we have created a new partnership platform for parties from the MENA region. Only by working closely with our neighbours will the EU be able to offer long-term solutions to the migration crisis.

The EU-Turkey agreement is one component of this strategy. A month after the agreement was implemented, the number of refugees coming from Turkey to the Greek islands had plunged. The latest data shows that around 1,740 migrants daily put their lives at risk crossing the Aegean Sea to the Greek islands before the agreement came into force. Since 1 May, this number is down to 47. Facilities for refugees in Turkey are also being improved through EU financial support.

However, there is no room for complacency. Much work still remains to be done to deal with the humanitarian crisis behind the migration one, both inside and outside the EU borders.

According to Europol, at least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe, and there are fears they might have ended up in criminal organisations forcing them to engage in prostitution, criminal activities or slavery.

A recent report from Unicef indicates that nine out of ten migrant children arriving in Italy this year were unaccompanied, and that more than 7,000 children crossed from North Africa to Italy on their own in the first five months of the year.

The migration debate has produced a lot of figures, but let me remind you of just one: the 4,000 persons who have lost their lives looking for a better future. In memory of all these children, women and men, we must address the migration crisis with solidarity, responsibility and above all humanity. Our legacy for the next generation cannot be a lost generation.

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