Terrorism, irregular migration.. two crucial challenges that need international efforts, and in which both Egypt and the European Union struggle to fight. Being on the same side in the fight against both challenges, Eu commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos assures the European Union commitment towards Egypt whom the EU consider as a strategic player to achieve peace and security in the region.
You have visited Egypt more than once so how does the dialogue between the Egyptian and European sides help in creating a framework to face issues regarding migration and combating terrorism?
Egypt is a strategic and crucial partner for the EU on many levels and plays a critical role in the stability and prosperity in the region.
Today, as the world is becoming more complex, issues are increasingly global and inter-related. The EU and Egypt share common challenges, in particular with regards to managing migration on the one hand and fighting terrorism on the other. The EU-Egypt migration dialogue that I have launched together with Minister Sameh Shoukry is a crucial step forward in our partnership.
My meetings in Egypt, including with the President El-Sissi, were very constructive. I would like to praise President El Sissi’s leadership in addressing the many challenges that Egypt faces today. President El Sissi and I have known each other since we were both ministers of defence of our countries, and I look forward to strengthening our EU-Egypt partnership, and to contribute to more stability and security in the wider region.
How do you regard the Egyptian efforts to face radicalism and terrorism especially that it is a country victim to a series of terrorist attacks?
Fighting terrorism is a global effort, and the EU and Egypt are on the same side in this fight. Egypt and Egyptian citizens have unfortunately endured several terrorist attacks in the last few years, most recently the atrocious attack on innocent worshipers at the Al-Radwa mosque in the Sinai. Terrorism, unfortunately, knows no religion. Muslims today are the primary victims of terrorism today. And I strongly reject those that wish to demonize Islam, because Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Christians and Muslims, we are all united in the joint fight against terrorism. For this reason, we must enhance our cooperation.
After meeting with president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and some Egyptian officials, how did you find the Egyptian response to the European vision to face terrorism?
Terrorism is a transnational threat that needs transnational answers – no country can fight this alone. Egypt is making considerable efforts to fight radicalization and terrorism and is for example working with us and other global partners to raise the global bar on aviation security. We are at a pivotal time and I am glad to see a strong Egyptian commitment to enhance our cooperation in our common fight against terrorism.
Do you find the European policy or plan to counter terrorism is taking into consideration the needs of the neighboring countries such as Egypt to be able to play a part in such plan?
As I have said before, terrorism knows no borders. We need transnational solutions to effectively address this threat. The external dimension is an intrinsic part of Europe's counter-terrorism efforts. Our partnerships with key neighboring countries such as Egypt are essential. Egypt is our close partner and plays a decisive role in our joint efforts to fight terror and bring back security and stability across the region. We wish to establish a deeper cooperation in a spirit of partnership and mutual trust by exchanging best practices and working closely together. We must build on our established experiences, learn from each other, and strengthen each other.
How do you regard the current cooperation between Egypt and the EU to face the challenge of irregular migration? And how can this cooperation be enhanced?
Egypt has already made significant efforts to tackle the challenge of irregular migration. I praise the Egyptian authorities for their work that has produced substantial results in preventing irregular departures and fighting smugglers' networks, promoting legal channels for its migrants and hosting thousands of refugees on its territory. On the EU side, we are already financially and operationally assisting Egypt to address the root causes of irregular migration and strengthen migration governance. For example, in 2017 we granted 60 million euros to Egypt under the EU Trust Fund for Africa to promote a more effective and human migration management by improving protection of migrants’ rights, supporting host communities and migrants and addressing unemployment of the young population (or youth unemployment), one of the most significant root causes of irregular migration. Now we are also making a decisive step forward by establishing a new EU-Egypt Dialogue on migration. This will enhance our cooperation by promoting mutual understanding, information-sharing and capacity building with regards to all the aspects of the migratory phenomenon. It is an important milestone in the history of the EU-Egypt partnership.
How do you evaluate the European asylum system in dealing with the flows of irregular migrants and their integration in the European societies and how does this system take into consideration security considerations?
Thanks to our collective efforts over the past two years, the European Union has gradually managed to get the situation under control, with a drastic fall in irregular arrivals. Thanks to the work of our EU agencies on the ground, everyone who arrives irregularly in Europe today is identified, checked and fingerprinted. In addition, second line security checks are being carried out by Europol – so security considerations are taken into account. In parallel, we have strengthened the control of our external borders, including through our European Border and Coast Guard and systematic checks on everyone who crosses our external borders.
Now is the moment to build on the opportunity of a situation more under control, to move from a crisis-modus towards a holistic and long-term approach of managing migration and asylum. We have proposed a very comprehensive and balanced reform of the EU's asylum system, to better be able to offer protection to those in need, but avoid abuses and secondary movements. We need to finalise the reform of our common asylum system in order to fully establish a system that will be effective, balanced, humane and fair. We have offered protection to more than 720,000 people in 2016 – Europe is and always will be a continent of solidarity and a safe haven for those in need.
How does the European policy respond to the international changes especially in the developing countries that force more challenges for the European countries as well?
Whether it is migration or security issues – these are directly linked to the geopolitical developments and instabilities in the world. We are becoming more globalised and more interconnected. When the situation in the neighbourhood around the EU is volatile, this also has an impact on the European countries, and vice versa. This is why the international and external dimension is an essential element in all our policies. Ultimately, our shared key objectives are working towards when stability, peace and growth in the region.
This is also why the EU has made available €2.9 billion under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to fund projects addressing the root causes of instability, forced displacement and irregular migration, with a focus on North Africa, the Sahel and Lake Chad, and the Horn of Africa. As I have said before, the EU and Egypt are partners in this region and we stand ready to help each other and other countries in need. We do our utmost to contribute with concrete and effective solutions while complying with our international obligations and remaining fully in line with our fundamental values of solidarity, respect of human rights and shared responsibility.