Press statement by President von der Leyen with Italian Prime Minister Meloni in Lampedusa
Thank you very much, Giorgia, for inviting me and Commissioner Johansson here to Lampedusa. Many thanks to the regional President and the Deputy Mayor for the invitation here to Lampedusa. It is very important for me to be here together with you.
It is very important for me because irregular migration is a European challenge, and it needs a European answer. So we are in this together. Indeed, we have met the incredible citizens of Lampedusa. We have spoken to the staff at the hotspot, and of course to the amazing Italian and European civil protection and law enforcement personnel. In these days, the local community has continued to do its utmost to support the men, women and children who have made it to this island.
This incredible solidarity is heart-warming. It is very important to remember: All that are involved – be it the people of Lampedusa, the local authorities or the migrants – are caught up in this situation, which is not of their making. Increasing numbers of migrants are leaving their country of origin. They are being lured by ruthless smugglers and traffickers. And many arrive here in Lampedusa simply because of its location. This puts Lampedusa under pressure, creating a very difficult situation for its people.
Prime Minister Meloni and I are here today to offer a coordinated response by the Italian and European authorities. I want to be very clear: We have an obligation as part of the international community. We have fulfilled it in the past, and we will do so today and in the future. But we will decide who comes to the European Union and under what circumstances, and not the smugglers and traffickers. Therefore, I would like to present to you a ten-point action plan.
First, I offered support to Italy by the European Commission and the European Union Asylum Agency and Frontex to deal with this immediate crisis. The agencies can help manage the high number of migrants. They can also help with the registration of arrivals, fingerprinting, etcetera.
Second, we will increase our support to transfer migrants out of Lampedusa. We urge other Member States to use the Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism and transfer migrants out of Italy.
My third point: We offer the support of Frontex to ensure a swift return of migrants to their country of origin, if they are not eligible for asylum. Those who cannot qualify for asylum cannot stay in the European Union. We will reach out to the countries of origin to facilitate this process. And I will send the Vice-President Margaritis Schinas to negotiate and speak with the countries of origin.
My fourth point: We must step up our efforts to fight the smugglers. We have to join forces with the countries of origin and the countries of transit to crack down on this brutal business. We need a joint-up approach, for example Frontex and Europol engaging with Tunisia and along the route. And our legislation on anti-smuggling needs an update from the legal side.
The fifth point: We will step up sea and aerial surveillance. We can do this through Frontex. Furthermore, I support exploring options to expand existing naval missions in the Mediterranean or to work on new ones. And we will speed up the supply of equipment to the Tunisian coastguard.
My sixth point: We will take action against the logistics of the smugglers. We will also work with the Italian authorities to ensure the removal and destruction of recuperated boats and dinghies.
My seventh point: The European Union Asylum Agency is ready to step up its support to Italy to apply swift asylum procedures. It is important to quickly reject applications that are unfounded. Those who are not qualified for asylum have to return.
And connected to that is my eighth point: The most effective measure to counter the smuggler's lies are legal pathways and humanitarian corridors. We will offer migrants real alternatives through the humanitarian admission. This is very important to break the vicious narrative of the smugglers. Because one thing is for sure: The better we are with legal migration, the stricter we can be with irregular migration.
This brings me to the ninth point: We will step up cooperation with UNHCR and IOM to ensure protection of migrants along the route and the increased assisted voluntary returns.
And the final point is that we will work with Tunisia on the implementation of the MoU. So, we will accelerate the contracting of new projects and the disbursement of funds to Tunisia.
Therefore, I want to conclude by saying that I came here to say to all of you again: Migration is a European challenge that requires a European answer and solution. It is concrete actions that will bring change on the ground. It is only through solidarity and unity that we can achieve this. And you can count on the European Union.
L'Italia può contare sull'Unione Europea.