8th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for migration affairs (Kiev, 4-5 September 2008)

(Check against delivery)

Elements for the opening speech by Corien Jonker, Pariamentary Assembly Vice-President

Dear Ministers,
Distinguished participants,
Dear colleagues,

It’s an honour for me to speak to you on this important conference on behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as it’s vice-President and Chairperson of the Parliamentary Commission for Migration, Refugees and Population.

I think that everyone who is attending this conference shares my opinion that migration, caused by economical reasons, reasons of violence, or because of climatologically changes is of all centuries. At the same time, because of increasing changes between countries, migration will only increase. Therefore I am glad that this subject is more and more becoming a topic of discussion within in the Council of Europe.

There are many chances and challenges, especially if you consider the humanitarian perspective. Human rights is one of the core values of the Council of Europe. I would like to propose therefore that we take this as a starting point for our debates today and tomorrow. I know that the reality of migration is tricky, many different interests play a role in the considerations of providing a safe place for migrants in our societies. But let us keep in mind that many of us are migrants themselves. Many conflicts in our European history resulted in the movement of borders, sometimes people were turned away. Some of us have ancestors from a different nationality or ethnicity. We therefore do not only debate about others, but also debate about ourselves. Which values are you hoping to find if we are forced to flee?

This Conference gives us the opportunity to hold a fundamental debate on this issue. I trust that it will lead us to fruitful results, which will be hopefully implemented by each one of us as the representatives of our countries and put it in to practice.

The four carefully selected sessions for this conference will guarantee this discussion.

Session I
Economic Migration and its management.

Our Assembly is concerned by the ever-growing number of irregular migrants in Europe. It is the right of each Council of Europe member state to regulate the entry of foreign nationals and to return irregular migrants to their country of origin in accordance with international human rights law. At the same time the fight against trafficking must be stepped up.

In a recent report to the Assembly, I have analysed the possible use of transit and processing centres as a response to mixed flows of migrants and asylum seekers. My own and the Assembly’s concern focused on the human rights perspectives of such centres if established within the European Union, in a member state of the Council of Europe, or outside Europe.

The report on transit centres shows us that managing migration is difficult and complex. If we would like to create a flexible, transparent and efficient system, human rights always need to be taken into account. In my view, the debate cannot be held without considering the view of human rights, for legal as well as for illegal migrants.

Session II
Economic Migration and it’s impact on development.
If we speak about economic migration, we often think about all those migrants who arrive by boat in southern Europe. In October this year our Assembly will debate a report on Europe’s “boat-people”. Last year more than 51.000 persons arrived in Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain, and since 1993 close to 10 000 persons perished. We as representatives of Europe have a responsibility to avoid that people die trying to enter its territory, but also to share responsibility for those qualifying for asylum.

We urgently need thoughtful and well-balanced solutions for these boat-people. I would like to argue that a comprehensive approach is needed, as also stated in the Council of Europe report on transit centres which I have just highlighted. This pro-active approach must involve countries of origin, transit and destination. We should not forget these countries of origin; investing in these countries is an absolute necessity to tackle to problem of economic migration at the source. 

Session III
Economic Migration and it’s impact on Social Cohesion.  
In June this year the Parliamentary Assembly organised a major debate on Migrants, Migration and Democracy. I would like to introduce you to some of the elements of this debate for your consideration.

The Assembly agreed that the active participation of legally residing migrants in our democratic, social and economic institutions is of fundamental importance. These legal migrants are important for our economies, for development, and for social cohesion. Our member countries must encourage, in different ways, its migrants to become active players in the democratic process, be it at the associative level, in enterprises or administrations, or at the political level, locally. This is in line with a Council of Europe Convention, namely the convention on Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level.

Regarding political participation, we can notice that the European Union is a special case because citizens of another member states can take part in local and European elections. However, I think that voting and standing as candidates in local and regional elections for non-citizen resident migrants could also be an achievable goal among Council of Europe member countries. Many countries have already introduced such possibilities after a fixed time of residence, which varies among countries, and may depend on reciprocity.

Migrants themselves must engage in social and political life for their own wellbeing as members of their host society. For this purpose, it is necessary for migrants to learn the values and language(s) of the host country. All migrant families must make sure that all their family members will acquire the local language.

The Assembly is also in favour of facilitating access to citizenship and to allow dual citizenship in order to encourage participation and integration. This makes all the more sense since we are experiencing an increased circular migration or worker mobility. This mobility also includes retired persons. A guiding document is the Council of Europe Convention on Nationality.

Session IV
Towards an integrated approach
The success of this conference will depend on the extent to which we are able to cooperate and to gear to one another as a result of the sessions. Many CoE member states have good legislation. And even though the situations in the different member states might be seen as unique, in essence they are not.

I would like to end, by making a (strong) request to the member states that have already had good results in solving migration issues. I would like to ask them to share those experiences, and possible mistakes, with those states that are at the beginning of this road to a well-integrated migrant policy and are developing their own migration policy.

Rests me to wish you a fruitful and also a pleasant conference, and may I suggest that you use the time to also meet each other in an informal way, exchange ideas and help us create a successful next step in this important aspect in the growth of Europe and worlds around it.

Thank you