Commissioner Avramopoulos on refugee relocation

EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in his remarks in Athens marking the first flight from Greece under the EU Relocation Scheme said:

Firstly let me tell you that, as Commissioner for Migration in the European Commission, I feel today both moved and pleased. I would like to offer my thanks to the Prime Minister, to the President of the European Parliament, to Minister Asselborn, currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and our good friend, Mr Mouzalas, who during all this time has been doing his best so that we can reach the point where we are today.

What we experienced here, in an atmosphere of humbleness and humanity, which is also appropriate for such an occasion, sends multiple messages. Earlier the Prime Minister referred to the photo, which is shown right behind us and indicates exactly what the people in Europe expect from us. The people of Europe expect a collective effort in solidarity to deal with this big problem – the big problem that Europe is faced with. All this time, we have worked hard; night and day, all three institutions have worked together. I am indebted and grateful to the European Parliament, Mr. Schulz, in particular, and I also ought to acknowledge Mr. Asselborn’s dedication and his capacity as acting Presidency of the Council. In close cooperation, we managed to achieve these results that we saw today. A while ago, we were in Italy – there, we also experienced a similar event, where a group of asylum seekers went to Sweden. Today we are here in Athens, and we saw refugees going to hospitable Luxembourg. Let me reiterate myself that yes, at this point in time the stamina of the very ideals on which we build Europe is being tested – I am referring to notions including, first and foremost, affection and love for our fellow human beings and respect. In this day and age we are faced with tough circumstances; unfortunately, there’s a worrying phenomenon, because there’s xenophobia and racism. Such incidents are appearing in Europe. Some countries in Europe appear to opt for bringing back the bad memories of the European past – i.e., barbed wire, fences and walls.  Europe has a clear position: it disagrees with all of that. And Europe is communicating a responsible message of solidarity to all the people and the States of Europe.

What we saw today here was the end to a journey of danger and death for a small group of refugees who just left for Luxembourg. At the same time, this is also the starting point of a journey of optimism and hope.

However, there is a long way to go. This relocation process which we started implementing today will be faced with various difficulties. From this point on, we have to turn it into a regular process so that gradually the success of this policy will provide a convincing answer to all questions that are raised while at the same time realising the objectives that we envisaged. I am hopeful that we are going to find allies along the way and supporters; advocates who will be in favour along with the people of Europe. Of course, we have to work with third countries. We have already started that.

There is the Valetta Summit, this is very important. It is not just another summit where you have people sitting at the same table. Leaders, Heads of States and Governments know this is a special meeting because we are going to table specific proposals and suggestions. Quite soon I will be visiting Pakistan; we have to do something about our readmission policies as quickly as possible. We have to make sure that those who have come here illegally and without documents have to go back. I am not referring to the refugees but we have to deal with this problem, always in full respect of fundamental values and principles on which we build our policies.

Today is a symbolic day but it is also essential and crucial. Let me honestly and sincerely express my thanks on behalf of the European Commission. Let me extend my thanks to the European Union which has recently picked up speed to make sure we reach the end result today. There is a long way to go; we still have a lot to do.

However, what needs to prevail is the value and sense of responsibility and solidarity. We, as European citizens, are the offspring of either migrants or refugees and as we were saying, with the Prime Minister, all of us carry some DNA of refugees or migrants. Because after all, we have relatives, family and friends who have gone through the trials and processes that the people who just left for Luxembourg did. So, let us look forward, let me once again publicly reiterate my thanks to the institutions; the Council, the Parliament, the Government. Thank you so much for your commitment. Thank you all for being here today including you, Prime Minister, for the contribution of Greece because Greece is communicating a responsible and humanitarian message to the whole of Europe. And I thank you for that.