On 11 and 12 November 2015 an international summit to discuss migration issues took place in Valletta, Malta. The summit built on existing cooperation processes between Europe and Africa and brought EU and African countries together with a large number of international and regional organizations, namely: the African Union Commission, Economic Community of West African States Commission, UN, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration.
The summit was called to address the issue of the unprecedented numbers of migrants and refugees that have been arriving in Europe in recent months. It addressed the challenges but also the opportunities of migration. It recognized that migration is a shared responsibility of countries of origin, transit and destination. Participants adopted a Political Declaration and a Valletta Action Plan, designed to:
1. address the root causes of migration by working to help create peace, stability and economic development;
2. improve work on promoting and organizing legal migration channels;
3. enhance the protection of migrants and asylum seekers, particularly vulnerable groups;
4. tackle more effectively the exploitation and trafficking of migrants;
5. work more closely to improve cooperation on return and readmission.
The EU also announced the setting up of an Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa. This trust fund will be worth €1.8 billion (about US$2.6 billion), on top of the EU and Member States’ existing development assistance to African countries of 20 billion euros every year.
Speaking at the press conference following the Summit, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, said: “What we have agreed is a crucial step in reinforcing our cooperation… We are under no illusions that we can improve the situation overnight. But we are committed to giving people alternatives to risking their lives.”
The issues discussed at the Valletta summit may seem remote from Liberia. Very few Liberians venture along the dangerous routes other Africans tread in search of opportunities in Europe. On the whole, those who seek to enter Europe for academic, work or sporting reasons do so through the proper processes and channels. This is something to be encouraged and commended.
Nevertheless, Liberia understands very well the sort of situation which drives others to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean sea in rubber dinghies or travelling across Europe crushed in the back of suffocating airtight Lorries. You understand how civil war and instability can leave people feeling they have no choice but to abandon their homeland in search of peace and security elsewhere. Liberia also understands the dilemma that faces both individuals and developing countries when the best and brightest can earn far more overseas than they can ever hope to earn at home, however much their skills and talents are needed.
As President Tusk has recognized, there are no easy solutions to these sorts of problems. Money on its own isn’t the answer, although the new Trust Fund is a welcome addition to the EU’s existing development programs, allowing the EU to work with our African partners to provide more opportunities at home for young people in those countries from which migration flows are strongest, without diverting assistance from other partners such as Liberia, which has similar needs and challenges.
Nor is it a solution for Europe to simply close its borders, shutting out the genuinely deserving refugees along with the illegal immigrants or restricting opportunities for legal migration. EU member states remain committed to supporting asylum seekers, in line with their international obligations and the EU’s core values. The EU also recognizes that properly managed legal migration for economic reasons can have a positive impact both in the development of African partner countries and in the EU member states.
Rather the solutions are long term and multi-faceted, requiring partnership and commitment between Europe and Africa. As the Political Declaration of the Valletta Summit highlighted, addressing the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement require a common response focused on reducing poverty, promoting peace, good governance, rule of law and respect for human rights, supporting inclusive economic growth through investment opportunities and the creation of decent jobs and improving the delivery of basic services such as education, health and security. In the words of the Declaration: “Rekindling hope, notably for the African youth, must be our paramount objective.”
These issues are as relevant to Liberia as to anywhere else in Africa and the EU is already working with the Government of Liberia to address many of them. EU development programs are funding roads and electricity generation projects, supporting the decentralization of basic services and improved education programs. We also provide Budget Support for the Government to allocate according to its own priorities and capacity-building projects to promote good governance, effective public financial management and transparency and accountability. The EU and its member states also work with both government and civil society groups to promote human rights, including action against gender-based violence.
Recognizing that sustainable development requires inclusive economic growth, the EU is also working with Liberia to ensure the country’s rich natural resources are used for the benefit of its population. An agreement is already in force to ensure that wood exported from Liberia to the EU is legally compliant and will benefit public revenues, community support and sustainable forestry exploitation. A fisheries agreement currently under consideration will support Liberia’s ability to manage its maritime resources effectively and ensure the government receives proper compensation for allowing EU vessels to fish in Liberian waters.
In all these areas and more the EU and its member states are ready and willing to act as enabling partners for Liberia. Last week’s summit has simply underlined the reasons why such co-operation is vital for all of us.
By Ambassador Tiina Intelmann