PRESS RELEASE ISSUED BY THE PARLIAMENT OF MALTA: Lyon Colloquy – 11 October 2016: Challenges of Immigration

The European Association of former parliamentarians of the Member States of the Council of Europe FP/AP organized a colloquy in Lyon, France to discuss the problems of migration. According to UNHCR there were 65 million forcibly displaced persons in 2015; most of them in Africa and Asia.

The recent movements of asylum-seekers, refugees, and migrants represent major challenges for Europe, as migrants mostly come from countries with different cultural and religious backgrounds and not all of them are prepared to accept “our common values” and legal and socio-political norms. Some may even seek to actively undermine the host’s countries’ legal and political norms. Even though the root causes such as civil wars and natural disasters have been known for many years the recent flow of refugees and migrants found Europe unprepared and nothing had been done to elaborate and implement a comprehensive and coordinated plan for confronting the compound immigration problem. The Mediterranean countries have been hit hard and too often left to face the consequences by themselves. Globally, millions of people are seeking a better, free and healthy life in a safe, nonviolent environment for themselves and often their families. The aspirations of people seeking a better, free and healthy live are understandable, but it is not possible within the foreseeable future for European countries to satisfy even a part of these expectations.

We, former parliamentarians of the “European Association of former members of parliament of the member states of the Council of Europe” (FP-AP), emphasize the following principles and propose guidelines for tackling the challenges.

1) The Geneva Refugee Convention, the UN Declaration on Universal Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights of the Council of Europe set the policy framework of most aspects of immigration policies – supplemented by national and EU regulations.

2) There must be a worldwide and European responsibility sharing in terms of fighting against forced migration, integrating immigrants and boosting the number of refugee resettlement places – all this requires a common political will in our countries and adequate financial means. We have to devise a further system of controlled and lawful immigration in order to avoid the danger of overstretching state and society systems and their capacity for absorption.

3) All efforts, from asylum policies to robust search-and-rescue mechanisms must be guided by the humanitarian principle: rescue the lives of persons and safeguard the dignity of all human beings.

4) Asylum-seekers, the “climate change refugees” and other refugees and (economic) migrants have to be treated differently. Migrants who are not granted the right to stay (e.g. coming from safe third countries) could be made to return to their home countries as soon as possible

5) In view of the reality of the magnitude of immigrants, border controls and registrations must be maintained and even enforced, with particular regard to the problems of terrorism, organised crime and trafficking of persons.

6) We need to pursue a European policy on asylum, refugees and migration based on our common values of humanity as well as on the principle of solidarity and enlightened self-interest.

Immigration can open opportunities but only if the challenges are successfully addressed and decisions and laws are implemented. We need strong democratic states with efficient institutions and good governance.

7) At UN level, as well as by national engagement, every possible effort should be made to end armed conflict and to prevent escalation of conflicts and fight against any form of forced migration.

8) UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) should be provided with sufficient funds to run the refugee camps and UNOCD (the UN office on Drugs and Crime) should be supported to fight international organized crime, in particular trafficking of persons.

9) At EU level the engagement of a functioning external border control by a common agency is indispensable.

10) Authorities have to work together in a better way to manage the flow of refugees and should install efficient and fast procedures for registration and recognition of refugees.

11) Measures to integrate refugees into European societies, where gender equality and equal rights for women are constitutional rights, have to be comprehensive and compulsory.

12) States, as well as political parties, teaching and economic institutions should inform citizens about the impact of the arrival of refugees and migrants on European societies. The World Refugee Day on June 20 and the International Migrants Day on December 18th could be appropriate dates.

13) Integration is an important challenge for civil society as well. It must be made part of the social and intercultural dialogue.

14) FP/AP support all efforts of a humane, rational, immigration and integration policy in Europe characterized by a comprehensive approach lowering the risks and threats related to an illegal influx of people; and enhancing possible opportunities as well. We support integration and condemn discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

15) European values: gender equality, respect for the Human Rights including the four freedoms (conscience, religion, opinion, organisation), the rule of law, a pluralistic, liberal and secular society are to be respected by everyone. Integration should not be understood as assimilation. Those who refuse integration should not have a future in our countries, as they exclude themselves from our solidarity.

16) Implementing the 2030 Agenda of the UN with its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), the international community, UN Member States and the EU, civil society and the private sector are called upon to contribute to the development towards a better world.

17) Governments and parliaments must strengthen social cohesion and work on eliminating stereotypes and prejudices towards foreigners, so that further disenchantment with democracy and politics in Europe and particularly in the EU can be avoided.

18) The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, and its Sub-committee on Integration of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should play a more important role to monitor and evaluate the development in Europe.

19) The European Parliament and National Parliaments should create (following the example of the Inter-parliamentary Conference on Stability, Economic Coordination and Governance in the European Union and the Inter-parliamentary Conference on Common Foreign and on Common Security and Defence Policy (CFSP/CSDP)) a new Inter-parliamentary Conference for Migration and Integration.

20) We propose that the Member States of the Council of Europe together with local authorities, civil society and immigrants create a

“Charter of Equal Participation in Political and Public Life”

and would appreciate if the Parliamentary Assembly could support this proposal by submitting an appropriate recommendation to the Committee of Ministers.

Source: Government of Malta.