“Building high fences will not be enough”

28.11.2014 - Interview

Joint article by the German and Italian Foreign Ministers, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Paolo Gentiloni, published in Frankfurter Rundschau and Il Messagero on 28 November 2014

Civil wars, expulsion, a lack of economic prospects, and human rights violations are forcing increasing numbers of people to leave their homes in the wider European neighbourhood. Driven by a desire for security and a better future, they embark on perilous voyages. On their long odysseys to Europe, many refugees endure great suffering and exploitation. All too often, their exodus even ends in death.

In Europe, we must react to this not only by taking emergency action at our borders. Long‑term solutions to the current refugee crises and migrant flows can only be found together with the countries of origin and transit. Migration and refugee policy in a spirit of cooperation is therefore a central field in which precautionary foreign policy must prove itself. We must not leave countries in the lurch that border on the world's trouble spots and that are under enormous strain as primary host countries. This is the approach that was taken by the Syrian Refugee Conference held in Berlin in October, at which the international community affirmed its commitment to taking responsibility for the Syrian refugees as well as their host countries.

Alongside the Middle East, East Africa is currently the most important region of origin for refugees attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. Almost all victims of the boat tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa on 3 October 2013 were from Eritrea. Yet increasing numbers of Somalis, Ethiopians and Sudanese are setting out on this dangerous voyage, as well. Italy has launched Operation Mare Nostrum as a rapid and effective humanitarian response and has thereby assisted some 100,000 migrants in distress at sea.

However, the risky crossing of the Mediterranean is only the final stage of a journey from the Horn of Africa to Europe. As soon as they leave home, refugees and migrants are constantly in danger of falling victim to human rights abuses and humanitarian emergencies. It is estimated that, since 2009, between 25,000 and 30,000 Eritreans, Somalis and Ethiopians have been mistreated, tortured and abducted along the East Africa migration route, by captors seeking to blackmail families into paying high ransoms.

Italy and Germany are therefore determined to step up their joint engagement in the Horn of Africa. The Khartoum Process that has been initiated by Italy provides the framework for these efforts. The political process by which countries in Europe and the Horn of Africa are seeking to jointly tackle human trafficking is the focus of the international conference that we are attending in Rome today.

As the Foreign Ministers of Germany and Italy, we want to demonstrate in the Horn of Africa the value that foreign policy can add, with a view to supporting transit states and combating the causes of migration. We want to and must take action that goes beyond mere law enforcement and humanitarian measures, which can only provide short-term answers. We must develop long-term strategies through a comprehensive approach based on cooperation with the countries of origin and transit. This applies especially to countries in the Horn of Africa and to transit countries on the Mediterranean coast, in particular to Libya, as well as to Egypt and Tunisia.

This means, firstly, that we will intensify our diplomacy with a view to actively stabilising the region. Our efforts will comprise mediation that aims to defuse conflicts, for example in the Sudan or in Somalia, as well as providing support to peace missions of the United Nations and the EU, disarmament efforts, and initiatives to combat illicit trade in small arms.

Secondly, we want to protect refugees’ human rights, as well as reinforce measures that can be taken locally to fight human trafficking. We can train and heighten the awareness of border guards, so that they are better able to identify human traffickers and their victims and can react accordingly. We can improve protection measures in and around refugee camps and facilitate psychological and medical care for the victims.

Thirdly, we are implementing programmes that improve the social, economic and legal situation of refugees and migrants in countries that are located along the migration routes. If people are given the opportunity to earn acceptable livelihoods in their countries of origin, then this can reduce the pressure they feel to keep moving on. On a practical level, this means we want to help put host countries in a position where they can give migrants access to government services, such as education and health care. We want to advise local authorities on how they can best implement immigration and asylum law. In this way, we are helping to stabilise weak state institutions and can open the door for a dialogue on good governance.

For Italy and Germany, today's conference in Rome is a first significant step in our joint, long-term engagement to assist the countries in the Horn of Africa. We will work together closely with all states involved in the Khartoum Process, as well as with the European Union and the African Union. Only when migration topics have become an integral part of European foreign policy will we be able to make an effective contribution to coping with migration crises.

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