Europe debates migration issues

With thousands of Afghans fleeing their country to escape famine and a looming war, the Council of Europe, Europe’s top human rights body, held a conference in Athens yesterday to tackle the problem of illegal migration. We need to refrain from creating scapegoats, remarked Walter Schwimmer, the Council of Europe’s secretary-general, during his address. This is particularly relevant today after the recent terrorist attacks in the United States, which are creating a climate of xenophobia and intolerance. The summation of the two-day conference, titled Irregular migration and the dignity of migrants: Cooperation in the Mediterranean region, will include the guidelines for the next ministerial meeting on migration scheduled for next September in Helsinki. The conference, organized jointly by the Council of Europe and the General Secretariat of Greeks Abroad of the Greek Foreign Ministry, was attended by representatives from over 40 countries, including a number of North African countries. I would like to thank the participants from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya for their presence here today. Cooperation is imperative if we want to work effectively with a problem of common concern to the whole of the region, Schwimmer said. Cooperation needed Schwimmer highlighted some cases where illegal migrants have met tragic deaths in their attempts to approach the Mediterranean coasts, and called for cooperation among all states in order to deter illegal migration in the region. Today’s conference is a unique opportunity to develop this coordination and to establish an effective partnership, he said. We need integrated orderly migration management with respect for an individual’s fundamental rights. This in turn depends on coordination between Council of Europe member states and the countries of migrant origin. Schwimmer declared that it is of outmost importance to put migration on the bilateral agenda of countries of migrant origin, and transit and receiving states, if illegal migration is to be prevented. The Greek State was represented at the conference by Deputy Foreign Minister Grigoris Niotis and Interior Minister Vasso Papandreou, as well as by several law enforcement and state agency officials. Papandreou echoed the views of Schwimmer, saying that migration is a global issue that requires bilateral efforts and cooperation, and that modern policies should also take into account the impact that migration has on local communities. The minister declared the flow of migration will continue unless developed countries work closely with the countries of migrant origin, and help close economic gaps in the world. Papandreou said migrants are important to host nations, both to the economy and demographics, and stressed the need for a management mechanism for the implementation of a detailed migration policy. These include the advisory boards that have been established at local government level and which will function as liaison offices for state agencies and pass labor market information to Greek diplomatic missions abroad. The minister said Greece was caught off guard in the early 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants crossed the borders from neighboring Albania, Bulgaria and Romania. Deputy Foreign Minister Grigoris Niotis declared that up to 700,000 migrants are currently in Greece, most having come from Albania. Parliament passed legislation recently on regulating migration, under which illegal migrants were given the chance to register with state agencies and apply for temporary work and residence permits. Niotis said the estimated annual revenue of human trafficking syndicates comes to $5 to $7 billion, almost equal to that of drug-trafficking networks.

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