BOSTON, MA – Demetris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, was the keynote speaker at the 2016 Harvard European Conference “Europe at the Crossroads of the Migration and Security Crises” on Friday February 19.
EU Ambassador to the United States David O’Sullivan opened the conference, which drew hundreds of graduate students from Harvard, Tufts, and other prominent universities of Boston and also professors and diplomats.
Former European Commission president Jose Manuel Durao Barroso was also on hand.
Avramopoulos, who is familiar with Harvard academicians because he spent a semester there a fellow about ten years ago said that “the Harvard-Fletcher European Conference is testament to the bonds between our two continents. These bonds go deep in our culture and history, and extend far ahead into our future. Today, Europe is facing the biggest refugee challenge since the end of the Second World War. 2015 has been the year of many records. More than one million people arrived at the Greek and Italian shores. More than 1.2 million people applied for asylum in the EU. 3,771 lives were lost at sea. These are tragic and unnecessary deaths, and they can be avoided.
“Given the explosive instability in the region these people are coming from, we know the migratory flows are set to continue. As we head into spring, we know that the numbers will spike again. We know that this is a situation which evolves rapidly. And we know that the sooner we deal with the challenges on the basis of the twin principles of responsibility and solidarity, the better results we will have. We have been telling EU countries: As long as everyone is waiting for the others to move first – and as long as some continue to act as if the problem will disappear if they just ignore it – then things will only get worse. A consistent and coordinated European and global approach, put into practice urgently, is the only way ahead.”
He continued: “it is true that the refugee flows took us somewhat by surprise. When our policies were designed, things were different in the area of migration. The flows were of a different nature and scale. Since this European Commission took office in late 2014, we have been constantly trying, adapting and anticipating.
“We took action and proposed concrete responses. In May, we presented the comprehensive European Agenda on Migration to address structural problems.
We put in place an emergency relocation scheme of 160,000 applicants from Italy and Greece to relieve pressure on these two countries. This is a redistribution system for asylum seekers based on solidarity between all EU countries.
“Right now, processing and registration centers at the arrival points of the refugees in Italy and Greece are being established to ensure that every refugee who approaches European borders is immediately registered, fingerprinted and identified. This was how we gave EU frontline countries substantial and coordinated support. The relocation system is based on the properly functioning hotspots.”
Avramopoulos said that “in December, we proposed the creation of a European Border and Coast Guard, which would have enough resources to step in and prevent crises from developing at our borders.
“We want it to take immediate operational measures when problems arise at our external borders. And we want it to support Member States to return irregular migrants to their home countries.
“Along with the measures to reinforce our borders, we had to also face a mounting threat from terrorism. 2015 was a year of several bloody attacks on European soil – all at the same time as the mounting migration crisis.
“Our response again was comprehensive. We put our European Agenda on Security on the table in April 2015 and set out all the measures needed to make a difference for our citizens’ security. We agreed on EU rules to exchange passenger name records between law enforcement authorities. We proposed the criminalization of terrorist offences across the Union. We introduced tighter rules to control firearms. We took a whole range of actions with civil society to fight radicalization.
We launched a partnership with the internet industry to fight terrorist content online.
And we will continue on this path to ensure the safety of our citizens.”
Avramopoulos continued: “2016 will be the year that we focus on terrorist financing, with a range of measures to deprive terrorists of their financial resources.
“Our efforts will continue and intensify. Especially because on the migration front, what has been agreed is not yet delivering the expected results. Far more is needed, at the European and the international level.
“We have repeatedly called for all EU countries to play their part and show more solidarity, more responsibility. And to act on it.”