Next week, European and African leaders will gather in Valletta, Malta, to address the ongoing migration crisis and explore sustainable solutions.
So far, more than 700,000 migrants have arrived in European Union member states by sea in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration. Many thousands have applied for asylum — Eurostat reports that the majority of those applications come from people fleeing the conflict in Syria.
African migrants too are coming to Europe’s shores in large numbers, oftentimes facing perilous journeys. In April, more than 800 people drowned when the boat carrying them capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. There have been numerous tragic incidents since, with many more going unreported.
The Valletta summit will include representatives from the 28 EU member states, the European Commission, the African Union Commission, the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations and the IOM.
EU Ambassador to the United States David O’Sullivan, speaking in Washington, D.C. last week, shed some light on what participants will discuss. He highlighted four areas of focus for the summit:
First, “addressing the root causes, by working to help create peace, stability and economic development.”
Second, “improving work on promoting and organizing legal migration channels.”
Third, “enhancing the protection of migrants and asylum seekers — particularly vulnerable groups.”
And fourth, “working more closely to improve cooperation on return and readmission” — a subject O’Sullivan warned would be “delicate,” but necessary since the EU doesn’t have the capacity to take in all migrants.
“It’s not that we don’t want to be compassionate — that we don’t want to open our doors to as many people as we can — but we know there are limits to what we can absorb in terms of immigration,” O’Sullivan said, stressing the need for a well-functioning system to allow genuine asylum seekers in, while returning and readmitting individuals deemed economic migrants.
The EU official added that tackling these elements has to be done “in close partnership” with African leaders.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard meanwhile emphasized the need for discussions around legal migration channels: “I salute the people who are organizing [the Valletta summit], because I think it’s exactly the right groups of people to bring together.”
Richard added that it is “disappointing” there aren’t more mechanisms in place to allow for legal migration and pointed to northern European countries that would benefit from more workers and a larger population.
Some Europeans worry about cultural differences and competition for jobs, O’Sullivan said. While European countries can benefit from welcoming migrants who bring skills and economic contributions, O’Sullivan emphasized the importance of avoiding a “brain drain.”
“We don’t want to create a situation where we are taking some of the best and brightest away from the countries that need them.”
Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.
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