Minister praises EU cooperation on migrant ship

Migration policy – Situation of the Aquarius – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the daily newspaper Ouest France

Paris, 15 August 2018

Q. – Why didn’t France volunteer to take in that boat?

THE MINISTER – Because the law of the sea stipulates that the safest and nearest port should be chosen. International organizations are there to decide on this, and we’re keen to abide by that law. But that law also involves mutual commitments, i.e. that those ports which are approached first must be supported by European cooperation.

Q. – Even so, Italy refused to open its Sicilian ports, the nearest ones for the Aquarius…

THE MINISTER – Yes. But Malta put itself forward thanks to European solidarity. I welcome that decision. It required discussions between different governments. French President Emmanuel Macron, Gérard Collomb (the Interior Minister) and I have been in contact with our European counterparts to arrive at a coordinated solution that is coherent. I’m delighted, above all, that there’s been a European response.

France is going to take in 60 people, but we’re not alone: Spain, Portugal, Germany and Luxembourg have united in this effort of solidarity. This solution of cooperation is enabling us to address the humanitarian challenge and save Europe’s honour.

Q. – Despite that cooperation, isn’t it hard to conceal the rifts between European countries?

THE MINISTER – It’s a good lesson which shows that the migration issue can’t be handled by European countries pitted against one another. We’ve shown our ability to work together, between countries with goodwill that seek solutions rather than slogans.

Q. – But it’s only an ad-hoc response. Hours of bargaining were required before an understanding was found to take in just 141 migrants…

THE MINISTER – Yes, but it was proven that it’s possible. We found a solution of responsibility allowing us to make a practical response. The Europeans showed their ability to work together. We must continue, beyond this crisis, in order to implement the guidelines set by the European Council at the end of June. That’s based on three fundamental pillars: the strengthening of cooperation with countries of origin and transit, the protection of European borders, and solidarity and cooperation in terms of taking in refugees. That’s what we’ve just implemented positively, and it means continuing in that direction in order to have long-term solutions, including when there are humanitarian tragedies.

Q. – Will we have to renegotiate every time migrants arrive on an NGO boat?

THE MINISTER – No. The solution is to implement the principles approved at the Council in order to prevent those flows. The main goal is indeed to prevent fatal crossings of the Mediterranean, which are always a tragedy in humanitarian terms.

Q. – The number of crossings has largely decreased, but people are still dying in the Mediterranean…

THE MINISTER – Trafficking in the Mediterranean has fallen considerably. That shows that we must act at the same time on the various fronts, with the departure countries and the transit countries. In Niger and Chad we’ve created OFPRA (French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons) units in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This has been a very important factor in limiting departures.

This work is continuing now in Libya. It’s making it possible to identify migrants early on who are likely to benefit from the right of asylum and those who are economic migrants. The latter, while they must of course be dealt with humanely, must be taken back to their countries of origin, in communication with the authorities concerned.

Q. – At the risk of forcing migrants to take more dangerous routes? Migrants are dying in the Sahara…

THE MINISTER – Which clearly means it’s essential to deter them from leaving, and that’s what is being done in those centres. It also means we’ve got to fight the people-smugglers. They’re the criminals in all this.

Q. – Isn’t it preposterous to think that Libya has safe places to take in migrants? Many abuses have been denounced in its centres in recent months.

THE MINISTER – This is no longer the case today, as far as I know. It mainly involved migrants who had come from the Sahara desert and were shut up in centres like slaves. A joint African Union/European Union/United Nations mission was organized to put this right. We helped these migrants return home, which many of them wanted to do.

Q. – Are the centres which the migrants rescued at sea by the Libyan coastguard are being taken to better run, in your view?

THE MINISTER – Naturally, the Libyan coastguard – which depends on the authority of the state – is taking the migrants to centres run by the state and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. I’ve visited centres in Libya myself: they were being “managed”, even though they can’t be considered adequate reception centres, but the authorities are continuing to make efforts./.

Migration policy – Franco-Maltese initiative on the Aquarius – Communiqué issued by the Presidency of the Republic

Paris, 14 August 2018

On the initiative of Malta and France, several European Union member states – Spain, Portugal, Germany and Luxembourg – have agreed to allow the swift and safe disembarkation of the people rescued at sea by the Aquarius and the implementation of effective solidarity in taking in people needing protection.

France welcomes Malta’s exceptional humanitarian gesture and the effort of solidarity by the partners engaged in this concrete European solution which our country has made possible for more than 250 exiled people rescued at sea. The OFPRA [French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons] will be on the ground in the coming days to take in 60 people needing protection. This solution was found on an ad-hoc and voluntary basis, in a spirit of responsibility and solidarity, in line with the cooperative European approach we have constantly advocated. The solution adopted is in keeping with European cooperation, the law of the sea and humanitarian principles.

The decision was taken once again in the context of a humanitarian emergency, and it shows the importance of a long-term, sustainable mechanism for preventing repeated crises, in the context of reduced flows of illegal migrants in the central Mediterranean. France, together with its partners, will make proposals in the coming weeks for the implementation of an effective response so that everyone shoulders their responsibilities in terms of rescue, disembarkation and solidarity./.

Published on 08/01/2020

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