Thu Feb 9, 2017 7:33AM
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy

A senior European Union (EU) official says Europe has an ageing population and needs to keep its borders open to migrants if it seeks to sustain its economic progress.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, made the remarks in the opening ceremony of a Europe-Africa summit, dubbed the Valletta Joint Action Plan, held in Valletta, the capital of the Southern European island country of Malta, on Wednesday.

“I believe Europeans should understand that we need migration for our economies and for our welfare systems, with the current demographic trend we have to be sustainable,” said Mogherini, adding that the continent “does not and will not close its doors” to migrants.

In a detailed report published in June last year, the Eurostat, the organization that provides official statistics on the EU, said that the proportion of people of working age in the bloc was “shrinking” while the relative number of those retired was “expanding,” confirming the trend of ageing in the continent.

Mogherini’s remarks that Europe will not be closing its doors to refugees come even as the Europe-Africa summit, which will be attended by the leaders of the EU’s 28 member states on Friday, seeks to endorse plans to forestall a fresh wave of refugees expected to head for Europe by sea as weather conditions improve.

Europe faces a crisis caused by the irregular, mass arrival of asylum seekers, who use rickety boats operated by human traffickers to sail across the rough waters of the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.

While many of them die on the perilous journey, many also make it to their destination, where they are kept in camps to go through regular asylum seeking procedures. Since January this year, about 8,500 refugees have been rescued in the sea. However, at least 227 people have either gone missing or are feared dead.

While speaking about the European need for migration in general, Mogherini also hinted at the difficulties that the irregular asylum seekers cause for Europe.

“Africa on its side should consider the cost of human trafficking, the loss of human life,” she said.

She said, however, that the crisis could only be “managed through cooperation and partnership” between Europe and Africa.

She also criticized the move by certain European countries — which she did not name — to shut their borders to refugees, adding that barricades were neither the answer to nor were they the “European way” to deal with the problem.

Hungary, Croatia, and Slavonia are some of the European countries that have closed their borders in the face of the refugee influx.

This file photo, taken on November 03, 2016, shows refugees on a rubber boat before they are rescued by a Maltese NGO and Italian Red Cross off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea. (By AFP)

Mogherini also reported that that at least 4,500 people, mainly Africans, drowned or were declared missing in the journey to Europe last year.

Forces of separation

The EU’ foreign affairs chief also indirectly denounced US President Donald Trump’s decision to erect a wall along the US’s common border with Mexico to deter Mexican migrants.

“There are forces all around the world who are pushing for a different approach, an approach based... on building walls instead of building partnerships,” said Mogherini.

The coasts of Libya have become launch pads for the asylum seekers heading for Europe. A large number of them are Sub-Saharan Africans attempting to reach Italy.

The International Organization for Migration has recorded a high number of refugee arrivals in Italy from North Africa in 2016. It says 173,000 reached Italian shores since the start of last year, nearly 14,000 more than the figure in 2015 and breaking a 170,000 record registered in 2014.

The refugees have been fleeing war, famine, poverty, and persecution in their home countries. The European countries where they set or seek to set foot on have been largely divided over how to deal with the inflow.