Irregular migration has been a major concern for European policy-makers this year, which has seen migrant deaths in the Mediterranean hit a record 3,600 so far.
Al-Ahram Arabic website spoke to Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, about ongoing cooperation between European and African states to combat irregular migration and human trafficking.
Al-Ahram: What is the agenda of your visit to Egypt and what are the main topics you will discuss with Egyptian officials?
Dimitris Avramopoulos: I believe Egypt and the European Union are natural partners and should develop dialogue and cooperation, particularly on the matters of both migration and security. My visit to Egypt aims at exploring the possibility to make steps in this direction and at exchanging preliminary views on the issues which are of common concern.
Egypt plays a crucial role towards stability in the region, and strengthening Arab and EU ties. In times of populism I am very much concerned about the increasing xenophobia but also Islamophobia. Islam has contributed to the world's culture and this is recognised.
AA: How do you regard the European policy towards accepting migrants, especially with the flow of Syrian migrants to different European nations?
The countries of the European Union have been providing international protection to thousands of persons in need fleeing the Syrian and other conflicts. Meanwhile thousands of migrants were saved and rescued at sea while trying to reach Europe.
Our efforts are focused at reducing the use of the irregular channels and dismantling the criminal smuggling organisations which promote and exploit them.
Those that are in need of protection should use legal and safe channels to arrive to Europe. This is why the EU is continuing to invest in resettlement efforts.
However, those not in need of international protection and who have no right to stay in Europe should be returned, in full respect of fundamental rights and in cooperation with the transit and origin countries.
It is important to enhance and use the existing extensive legal migration channels on the basis of which migrants can come to Europe in an orderly and safe manner.
This is why the EU is strengthening its cooperation with the third countries which are ready to engage on this common challenge.
AA: Did you find the outcomes of the Valetta Summit suitable to the aggravation of the issue, and how far have these outcomes been implemented?
DA: In November 2015, the Valletta Summit brought European and African heads of state and governments together for the first time to strengthen cooperation and address migration-related challenges and opportunities, guided by the principles of solidarity, partnership and shared responsibility. Valletta represented a step change in the way we engage with our partners. This was translated into a clear action plan.
The European Union has been delivering on its commitments since then, in line with that action plan. We have set up a special Trust Fund for Urgent Actions in Africa, which we immediately put in use. To date more than 993 million Euros have been approved by the operational committees of the Trust Fund. These projects finance actions in all areas of migration management and in address root causes of migration. Many of them also address the needs of asylum seekers and refugees.
We have also taken steps to increase legal channels for mobility and migration, notably for categories such as students, researchers, and highly skilled persons. We are now expecting that the partner countries deliver with the same determination on their commitment, notably in the areas of irregular migration and return.
In June the EU launched a Partnership Framework with third countries under the Agenda for Migration which, in line with the Valletta principles, tries to foster progress in all these areas in the cooperation with some priority countries.
AA: What would be an effective framework through which the countries of origin and the countries of destination could face the major issue of human trafficking and smuggling?
The compacts that we are developing with the five priority countries selected so far under our new Partnership Framework are tailor-made, depending on the context and needs of each partner country.
Addressing migrant smuggling is a key element in that, alongside addressing the root causes of irregular migration, continuing to offer support to further socio-economic development in the country of origin, improving return and reintegration processes as well as better border management.
AA: How do you regard the current cooperation between Egypt (a transit country) and the EU to face the challenge of irregular immigration? And how can this cooperation be enhanced?
DA: Egypt is a strategic partner for the EU and we need to enhance our cooperation.
At this moment Egypt represents a major country of origin, of transit and of destination for migrants and refugees. Many of these migrants and refugees reach the EU from Egypt through irregular channels. I believe it is of our common interest to discuss and identify the most appropriate way to prevent the use of the irregular channels and improve the management of the overall flows, by addressing in a balanced and comprehensive manner all the issues at stake, in the interest of the EU, of Egypt and of the migrants and refugees involved.
AA: It goes without saying that dealing with migrants in Europe is not only challenging economically but security wise as well, so how do you preserve the balance between dealing with such issue while preserving the security of European citizens?
DA: Migration and security challenges are both questions that I am responsible for as a European Commissioner. However, we should not mix or amalgamate refugees and terrorists. At the same time, our tolerance and openness should never come at the expense of the security of our society and our citizens. This is an important balance that we must keep.
Managing our external borders better lies at the centre of this balance. We want to ensure and facilitate legitimate and bona fide travel to the European Union, while reducing irregular migration and also fighting security risks at our external borders.
AA: How do you regard Egyptian policies related to dealing with the resettlement of migrants and refugees?
DA: Egypt plays a very important regional role when it comes to managing the migratory crisis that affects us all. We know that continuing violence and instability in Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan as well as Syria result in increasing arrivals in Egypt. I am aware that this is a challenge, and the EU is willing to support Egypt, also to improve its resettlement efforts.
AA: How does the EU respond to the need for more aid for Egypt from the international community to deal with the millions of refugees, since Egypt is facing serious economic challenges?
DA: The EU is already supporting several third countries which have shown readiness to provide effective protection and hospitality to asylum seekers and refugees in accordance with international standards, in a spirit of responsibility sharing. Several regional development and protection programmes were also developed in this endeavour, including in Northern African countries.
The specific assistance that the EU offers to any third partner country takes into account the overall framework of those mutual relations, and Egypt is no exception to that.