By Marjan Golpira

EU, Iran to cooperate in areas of common interest: commissioner

June 25, 2018 - 14:5

TEHRAN - The European commissioner for migration and home affairs who is paying a visit to Tehran says the European Union and Iran have politically agreed to restart dialogue and cooperation in several areas of “common interest”.

“Almost two years ago, following the entry into force of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed by Iran, five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and the EU, the EU and Iran have agreed at political level to kick start dialogue and cooperation in several areas of common interest,” Dimitris Avramopoulos tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.

Avramopoulos, who described the objective of his trip to Tehran to address “migration management and drug abuse and trafficking” with related Iranian authorities, assured that the EU addresses the root causes of migration by “improving the situation and creating economic opportunities in countries of origin, fighting smugglers and traffickers, improving living conditions and protection of asylum seekers and refugees.”

Below is the full text of interview with the European commissioner:

Question: Last year, you threatened the EU states that had refused to step up to take in illegal immigrants such as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Has the approach been effective to motivate European countries to respond more positively to desperate immigrants who have fled war and famine?  

Answer: The main goal is on one hand  to provide protection to those fleeing war and persecution,  and on the other to support and show solidarity with EU Member States most affected by migratory pressure. This is precisely what was achieved, to an unprecedented level. Relocation has been an effective instrument – but only one of our emergency measures. It has been an important proof of responsibility sharing and EU solidarity. It has shown that when we work together towards a common goal, we can achieve very important results with positive outcomes for the EU as well as for people fleeing war and persecution. What we now need to put in place are structural and future-proof measures to address migration comprehensively. Our common asylum reform is essential in this regard.

Q: Millions of lives are at stake in Yemen and many have been displaced in the poor country since Saudi Arabia attacked the country in March 2015. What solution has the European Commission thought of for the refugee crisis in the country?

A: I am aware of the terrible humanitarian situation in Yemen. The EU has always reiterated its firm belief that violence will just protract the horrific suffering of millions of civilians. The EU has called on all the parties to respect International Humanitarian Law, to urgently agree on a cessation of hostilities, and to engage in a negotiation process.

The Commission's response was immediate and focuses on mobilising humanitarian aid in Yemen. Since the beginning of the crisis, the EU has made available almost €440 million in funding to Yemen, with over €100 million announced at the pledging conference in Geneva in April. Our support is notably aimed at providing emergency humanitarian assistance for life-saving aid across a wide range of sectors such as health, nutrition, food security, protection, shelter, and water and sanitation.

In addition to that, with our support, we are also helping laying in Yemen the groundwork for more sustainable cities once the conflict is over, and to provide flexible and effective support to the peace process and the ensuing political transition.

Q: As the world silently watches the war on Yemen, millions more in Syria have also become victim of another atrocious war that has left more than 6 million internally displaced, and around 5 million refugees outside Syria. What has your organization offered to relieve the refugee crisis in Syria?

A: Since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, the European Union has been very active on the ground and a leading donor, with over €10.6 billion mobilised for humanitarian, stabilisation and development assistance in favour of Syrians.

The EU’s humanitarian assistance has reached millions of people in need inside Syria and in surrounding refugee-hosting countries (such as Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon), providing shelter, food, water and health care as well as support livelihoods, facilitating people’s access to basic services and strengthening local institutions.

The EU will continue to play its part fully. We have used use the second Brussels Conference on Syria at the end of April to continue promoting the cessation of the hostilities, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the protection of the civilians inside Syria, as well as to renew its support to hosting communities in neighbouring countries.

Q: Has the EU commission thought of a fundamental solution to tackle the root causes of migration from Afghanistan, Africa and the volatile Middle East to Europe?

A: The European Union, which is already the biggest donor worldwide of development aid, is also in the lead in putting in place initiatives aimed at specifically addressing the root causes of migration by improving the situation and creating economic opportunities in countries of origin, fighting smugglers and traffickers, improving living conditions and protection of asylum seekers and refugees, strengthening border protection and increasing cooperation on return.

We have put in place a an ambitious European External Investment Plan that will mobilise up to €44 billion to support investments in partner countries in Africa and the European Neighbourhood to improve economic and social development and create jobs and growth. Specifically for Africa, we have established an Emergency Trust Fund with the aim of funding projects for over €3.3 billion to address root causes of instability and forced displacement in key African countries of origin and transit.  

Many other programmes have been launched by the EU in countries of origin and transit located in other regions of the world, to promote their development, build their institutions, strengthen their security, or to provide assistance to their refugees and internally displaced persons. This is the case for instance for countries like Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. 

And let me stress that for the new EU Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2021-2027, we have proposed to increase the budget available for the EU's cooperation with its non-EU partners as well as for its overall external action, up to €123 billion. This represents an increase of 30% if compared with the budget available in the period 2014-2020.

Q: As of today, Iran hosts some 2 million registered and unregistered Afghan refugees. What facilities have the EU Commission provided for a safe and voluntary repatriation of them from Iran?

A: Since December 2017, the EU is fully supporting the reintegration of Afghan migrants and internally displaced persons returning back home from whichever country. More specifically a €39 million programme was put in place for that scope, as well as to develop and implement the capacities at local level to give support to the returnees. This programme is in place in Afghanistan and is open to any Afghan returnee, independently on the country from which he or she is returned.  

Dimitris Avramopoulos says it is time for EU and Iran to cooperate on migration management and war on drug trafficking

Q: On June 25th, you are due to visit Tehran. What are you hoping to achieve from your trip and who are you planning to meet during your one-day stay in Iran?

A: Around two years ago, following the entry into force of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed by Iran, five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and the EU, the EU and Iran have agreed at political level to kick start dialogue and cooperation in several areas of common interest.

Two of these areas - migration management and fight against drug abuse and trafficking - are under my direct responsibility and it is now time to start our dialogue and our cooperation in these two areas of common interests. This is the main objective of my visit.

Q: In what ways can Iran and the EU Commission join hands and extend cooperation in dealing with refugee crisis worldwide?

A: In relation to migration and refugee issues, the EU and Iran have some common challenges and interests since we face similar situations as a country and region of destination of migrants and refugees.  I am therefore pleased to also note that as long as we are both open to give hospitality to persons in need of international protection, we share a similar approach.

While operating in a separate manner, the EU and Iran are already contributing to achieve a common objective - providing relief to refugees. We can deepen this cooperation. We may also work together in view of addressing other refugee crisis, notably by promoting measures facilitating the solution of these crisis and giving assistance to their victims.

I refer here for instance to the situation in Syria. The EU calls on all parties involved to take all the necessary measures to ensure an immediate cessation of hostilities, to allow for urgent access of humanitarian assistance and medical aid to the whole population, and to ensure the protection of civilians by respecting the International Humanitarian Law. This needs to be a priority for every party.

Q: The US announcement of 08/05/2018 to re-impose sanctions previously lifted under the JCPOA in August and November of this year will have negative impacts on Iran’s economy and consequently on refugees, mostly Afghans, who sought refuge here. With long history of hosting refugees, Iran seems to be getting penalized than rewards from the international community for embracing people from the war-torn states. Where does the EU commission stand on that issue, and what can it do to help Iran get over these tough times?

A: The EU remains fully committed to the implementation of the JCPOA. Sanctions-lifting is an essential part of the JCPOA and we view it as vital that the economic dividends flowing from the nuclear deal continue to be felt directly by the Iranian people and Iranian businesses.

The European Commission is working on measures to preserve the JCPOA following the US withdrawal and to mitigate the impact of US sanctions on EU companies legitimately investing in Iran, as well as sustain our overall cooperation with Iran. We are looking for measures to ensure that banking services between the EU and Iran can continue. This work is ongoing at expert level and should be finalised soon.

Undoubtedly, the overall economic situation in Iran has an impact on vulnerable populations, including Afghan refugees. In 2017, the EU allocated almost €10 million to deliver vital assistance to Afghan refugees in Iran. The European Commission has also included Iran as beneficiary of a €200 million package to help address the issue of chronic displacement in the region. The EU stands ready to continue its engagement with Iran on the issue of displacement in the region, including through the setup of a comprehensive migration dialogue.

MG/PA

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