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Summary report: Regional meeting on cooperation in South Eastern Europe to manage and stabilise population movements

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Tirana, 12 - 13 December 2002
Opening of the Meeting

Opening speech by Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen, Chairman of the SP Regional Return Initiative and Migration and Asylum Initiative.

Session 1 - Presentation, discussion and approval of the (draft) Regional Initiative to Mange and Stabilise Population Movements

1. The RRI/MAI Chairman Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen welcomed all participants and thanked the Albanian government for hosting the meeting in Tirana. He was pleased to give the word to the Prime Minister of Albania, Mr. Nano.

2. Mr. Nano, Prime Minister welcomed the participants and underlined that he was pleased to be the host for a meeting on such an important initiative. The Prime Minister underlined the need to jointly address the problems in the field of border management and find effective mechanisms to fight illegal migration. He informed that several joint task forces had been created in the area of border crime and that there was a regional network dealing with trafficking of human beings. In addition, much work had been done to enhance the network of civil society and the media. It was the objective of the Albanian government to stabilise the country but also the region which would be crucial for the EU and NATO.

3. The Chairman explained that his consultations and observation had led him to suggest that we build on and merge the Regional Return Initiative (RRI) and the Migration and Asylum Initiative (MAI) into a new Regional Initiative to manage and stabilize population movements in South Eastern Europe which could be referred to as MARRI (Migration, Asylum, Refugees Regional Initiative). The initiative would bring together in an integrated and regional context, the issues of:

  • asylum
  • legal migration
  • illegal migration
  • border control
  • visa policy and entry policies
  • return/settlement of refugees/displaced persons
4. The Chairman expressed confidence that there would be agreement on the proposal to integrate action on these issues into a new regional strategic and operational response. He explained that he had received many valuable comments and broad support for the new initiative in the past months during consultations with many partners. The process would draw on lessons from other regional processes such as the Baltic, the Budapest and the CIS process. Also, the initiative was based on the mandate given at the Zagreb Summit and further endorsed and elaborated at the Sarajevo ministerial meeting in March 2001. In order to implement and operationalise the strategy, the Chairman proposed to create several small working groups on each theme (i.e. asylum, legal migration, illegal migration, border control, visa policy and entry policies and return/settlement of refugees/displaced persons) composed of a EU or other SP member country, the European Commission, the relevant international organisation and the countries from the region. These groups would with the support of the MARRI Secretariat develop a regional programme of action on each of the specific themes, which would then be integrated by a group of 'Friends of the Chairman' into a fully, comprehensive Regional Programme of Action. Regional co-operation in this context should be understood as functional integration on specific issues.

5. During the following discussion there was strong support for the creation of the MARRI. Albania stressed that this initiative was not a rhetoric exercise but a concrete example for crucial co-operation in the region. Bosnia and Herzegovina fully supported the initiative and hoped that operationalisation and implementation of the initiative would start soon. Croatia pointed to the fact that co-operation in the region on these issue was essential and that it had already led to a significant decline of illegal migration. FRY and FYROM also expressed their full support to MARRI.

6. The Stability Pact member states and international organisations welcomed the new initiative as a timely and effective mechanism to bring together these issues in a coherent manner. Several participants underlined the need to continue the specific work on the return issue and the search for sustainable solutions. One should keep in mind that while 100.000 persons had found solutions in the region in 2002 at the same time 50.000 persons had left the region and applied for asylum in Western Europe.

7. The Chairman concluded the discussions on item 1 by thanking all participants for their strong support and promised that he would get back in writing on how this initiative would move forward operationally in the near future.

Session 2 - Reports by Countries, MAI Country Teams and CARDS missions

1. Mrs. Kurschat, Acting Head of the MAI SU, gave a short overview on the developments of the country teams. Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were finished, and FRY expected to be finalised in January 2003. In Albania and BiH there were still problems to be addressed.

2. Albania

Albania reported on the various activities in the context of the NAP. They pointed out, that Albania is the only country, which has no team leader and appealed for the designation of a team leader for the finalisation of the NAP. Only little work remains to develop a NAP. The Chairman appealed to the Netherlands to kindly reconsider leading the country team.

Greece, the partner of Albania on border management, mentioned that it had sent an expert team of the Greek police to assess shortcomings and gaps. Once the report is concluded the procedure to finalise the chapter on border management will be accelerated.

CARDS:

Mr. Mechati from EuropeAid Cooperation Office made some general remarks on the CARDS assessment missions to the Balkans. All five reports are now available in English and in the five languages of the countries of origin. The Commission has received comments from all five countries and is discussing the results with each of them. The report will also be the basis for developing a regional approach.

General remarks were made on asylum, migration, visa and border control.

Albania:

  • On asylum the legal framework is relatively well completed but institutional capacity and implementation have not yet reached the EU standards.

  • Migration: The responsibilities have to be clarified, ministries dealing with foreigners still need to pursue further efforts; training of officers must be intensified, transit facilities are needed.

  • Visa: Security standards for documents in accordance with EU standards must be developed, benchmarks for modalities of visa issuing are needed as is the rapid set up of a database accessible for the border points/control.

  • Border control: a need to set up a comprehensive strategy with details in the NAP on developments, standards, commitments, timetable, staff and staff training.

  • Missing infrastructure and logistics are the main weaknesses.
The Chair summarised by stating that despite of the absence of a country team, the International Organisations had been very helpful. Therefore he reiterated his appeal to offer its leadership of the country team.

3. Bosnia and Herzegovina

BiH reported that a new law on asylum and migration is being prepared and that a visa system is being developed.

The legislative reform is proceeding well as is the institutional reform, police reform, courts, central authorities. A working group was established to make proposals for a revised visa system. As the BiH border is very difficult to control, a well-functioning State Border Service had been established. Re-admission agreements with the Croatia and FRY are signed, agreements with other neighbouring countries are in preparation.

A reception centre for illegal migrants works well; a centre for asylum seekers is under construction; IOM runs a shelter for women victims of trafficking. The establishment of an information system and the improvement of the border management, software and equipment are necessary and are expected to be financed by the EU.

MAI mentioned, that the country team has experienced some difficulties. A first draft of a NAP exists but much work remains for it to be completed. To get the team to function it would be necessary to invite all partners involved to Sarajevo for discussing the way forward.

CARDS remarked that during the assessment mission there was very good cooperation among all involved partners. The report was issued on 11 November in English. The translation into local language would be finished in the next days.

  • Visa: BiH should review the practice and the categories of visas. The relevant ministries should work on this including the training of institutions.

  • Border control: a big effort is needed to close the green and blue borders especially with FRY and to strengthen the mobile unit concept. The costs of border management must be carefully taken in consideration. The interconnection of the IT system on border points has to be developed.

  • Migration: on illegal migration important steps ahead were made. Several readmission agreements have been signed, new areas are in preparation especially with the neighbouring States.

  • Asylum: there is an urgent need for training of involved staff on asylum issues, as BiH has to take over the task from UNHCR.
4. Croatia

Croatia reported that the NAP was finished in April 2002 with the support of the country team composed of Germany, Austria and Slovenia. There were several missions on border control, migration and asylum to identify the gaps and assess needs. The NAP was adapted by the Croatian Parliament. Two twinning projects are in implementation as a result of the NAP.

Austria gave an overview about the methodology applied in the CT. It was pointed out that all partner countries and International Organisations were strongly involved and that the experience of the junior partner Slovenia as Candidate State to the EU was much appreciated and very helpful.

CARDS on Croatia: beside the general remarks the following points had to be taken in consideration:

  • Asylum: further attention should be paid to the asylum procedures, interviewing of asylum seekers should be done by the same deciding authority; accelerated procedures by the courts.

  • A draft covenant between Croatia and member states should be worked out. There is a need to strengthen staff capacity in dealing with the issues, especially on trafficking and smuggling of human beings, and to establish a migration research system.

  • Visa: although Croatia is well advanced, it has to review and adjust some of the laws and procedures for issuance of visas. The infrastructure of the MFA and MOI should be upgraded. A database to link the border points is essential as is the automatic fingerprint system.

  • Border control: a strategy has to be elaborated on the staff development of border police. Co-operation and protocols with the neighbouring countries should be more developed.

  • Advice for infrastructure: make an inventory of the available equipment and fill the gaps.
5. FRY

FRY reported that efforts are under way to finalise the NAP to reach European standards. A good cooperation with countries in the region has been developed. Seven re-admission agreements are already signed, another seven are on the way and will be signed next year.

Legislation: a law on migration, criminal code, amendments for human trafficking are to be adopted.

Green border concepts: the adaptation of the border control by the police, controlled so far by the army, is in preparation.

Needs: logistics, training and education.

MAI pointed out, that there is a good cooperation among all partners involved in the country team. Hungary provided its experience as Candidate State. The NAP will be presented on the 15 January 2003. From the very beginning it was quite clear that FRY's complex political situation had rendered this task more difficult. Even if the state structures will be changed, the NAP will serve as a basis for the future work on integrated border management and asylum.

CARDS: As FRY will get new state structures on the basis of the constitutional charter, the procedures and deadlines are not yet known.

  • Asylum: the draft of a new national asylum law meets international standards and extends the cooperation with UNHCR. A return policy has to be developed and facilities for the deportation of rejected asylum seekers must be built up. The set up of a national determination unit on ministry level should proceed as well as a judicial appeal instance. Interpreter services are also needed. The establishment of reception centres and a clear distinction between asylum seekers and other aliens on matters of detention are urgently needed.

  • Migration: need to update the data information system on visa and statistical system. Training of border police officers, etc. - usual recommendations.

  • Visa: technical need to provide assistance to FRY to issue visas in accordance with international standards, the categories of the visas and visa issue should be revised

  • Border control: determination of competencies is needed, a political compromise must be found as soon as possible. Specialisation of services, elaboration of a staff employment plan.
Other recommendations were similar to those for other countries, especially on logistics.

6. Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)

The former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia mentioned that the country team had aimed at the harmonisation of migration, border management and asylum matters to facilitate cooperation in the region and to advance towards EU membership.

The NAP covers seven subtitles: asylum, migration, return policy, border control, information and telecommunication aspects on asylum and migration, citizenship, regional cooperation.

A good co-operation with UNHCR, IOM ICMPD and the support from MAI contributed to many good results.

On asylum the draft law is before Parliament affecting three ministries MFA; MOI, MOL.

Sweden as lead country explained the process aimed at identifying gaps and assessing actions needed to reach international levels. The general pattern of the NAP were to specify which laws are issued, which to be drafted, having deadlines for all of this. Then, which guidelines, handbooks, etc. have to be worked out, what action is needed on institutional capacity, such as staff recruitment or staff training and on equipment and capacity building. The implementation of the NAP will be monitored by the country team, hoping to receive financial support under the CARDS programme.

CARDS: The NAP seems more balanced on all topics and components on migration and asylum and has a very good methodology. Other teams are invited to follow the same approach. Deadlines for implementation would be helpful.

  • There was a need to incorporate appeal policy, a need to promote further integration policy on asylum and to provide training and reception facilitates.

  • The existing readmission agreements must be put in line with the EU standards.

  • Return policy: there is a necessity to promote voluntary return and escorted return procedures.

  • Visa policy: visa quality stickers have to be introduced in accordance with EU standards; to improve the identifying equipment for fraudulent documents, etc. (which was necessary also for the other countries).

  • Border control: further specialisation on border control, modernisation of the border passing point in place, the system would work better if there would be a monitoring mechanism.
7. The Chair summed up by mentioning the importance of developing and support national and regional civil society to assist in the management and well functioning of migration and asylum systems. He reiterated the importance of identifying and soliciting what kind of support was required to complete NAPs, especially for Albania and BiH, also as a basis for the movements towards a regional approach.

Session 3 - Presentation of bilateral, intra- and interregional initiatives and activities in the areas of asylum, migration, visa and entry policies, border management and return/settlement of refugees/displaced persons

1. The Chairman introduced agenda item 3 by recalling that at the meeting organised by the MAI Support Unit on 4 June 2002 in Bucharest the MAI Support Unit was requested to take stock of existing regional coordination/cooperation mechanisms and to identify possible areas to be strengthened. Accordingly, in order to initiate the process of collecting relevant data and information on regional cooperation, the MAI Support Unit developed and disseminated a checklist covering four different areas, namely, Visa, Border Control, Asylum and Migration. The result of this exercise was shared with participants in the Note submitted to the meeting.

2. The Chairman elaborated further on the need for relevant information for planning and operational purposes on existing Agreements, Contracts and Protocols signed, or under discussion, among the five counties of the Stabilisation and Association Process in the areas referred to above. In this context the MAI Support Unit had developed a model of a Matrix, which was attached to the report on the Inventory of Legal Instruments in the field of Migration and Asylum among the five countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

3. Mr. Pires of the MAI Support Unit introduced the methodology used to collect and computerise the information received through the checklist. He then summarised the main conclusions of the findings of the survey and recommendations for furthering regional cooperation and possible training needs as elaborated in the Report of the Findings of the Checklist on Regional Cooperation among the Five Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

4. Conclusions

Participants took note of the Findings of the Checklist on the Regional Cooperation among the Five Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and welcomed the proposal made by the Chairman to continue following up and updating data and information on future cooperation to support the activities to be developed under the MARRI framework, as well as the need for integrating the collected data and information into a regional planning process.

The meeting also supported the Chairman's proposal to continue collecting relevant information on Agreements, Contracts and Protocols and to submit by the end of January relevant data to update or revise the information already available in the matrix. It was agreed that it would be useful to pursue the idea of developing a Matrix/Inventory. In this connection, the Government of FYROM suggested that such an initiative should be anchored in the region and was prepared to take the lead with the support of the MARRI Unit.

Concluding session

Chairman's Summing Up.