Tag Archives: Asylum

Europe – the continent of solidarity: Joint Statement on the occasion of International Migrant Day

On the occasion of International Migrant Day on 18 December, Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Neven Mimica, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, and Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, made the following statement:  

“On International Migrant Day, we remember all those who live outside their county of birth and are on the move – either by choice or forcibly. We remember that our own continent, Europe, is built on migration. Our common history is marked by millions of people fleeing from persecution, war or dictatorship – looking only 100 years back. Today, our European Union allows people across the continent to freely travel, to study and work in other countries. This has made Europe one of the richest places in the world – in terms of culture, of economy, of opportunities and in terms of liberties. But this day is also an occasion to remember those who have left their homes, in the face of conflict, political oppression, poverty or lack of hope, and who struggle to build a new and decent life elsewhere. While for some, migration is a positive and empowering experience, too many others have to endure human rights violations, xenophobia, exploitation and unacceptable living conditions along their journeys.  

Protecting and upholding the fundamental rights and freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their status, has always been and will always be our priority. This is at the heart of our European Agenda on Migration. We are working relentlessly, inside and outside the European Union, in close cooperation with our Member States and our international partners to save lives, provide protection, offer safe and legal pathways for migration and tackle the root causes that force people to leave their homes in first place, as well as fight the criminal networks that often take advantage of people’s despair.    

We have a shared responsibility towards people on the move and we need to act on a global scale to support them and to uphold the safety, dignity and human rights of migrants and refugees. It requires the engagement and the consistent implementation of international agreements by all.

Europe is committed to remaining the continent of solidarity, tolerance and openness, embracing its share of global responsibility. And for those who we have recently welcomed to Europewe want the same as we want for all Europeans, namely to prosper and flourish and contribute to a better future for our continent.  

We strongly support the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and will continue to actively work towards the adoption of the UN Global Compacts on Migration and on Refugees at the United Nations.  

Background 

Over the past 20 years, the European Union has put in place some of the highest common asylum standards in the world. And in the past two years, European migration policy has advanced in leaps and bounds with the European Agenda on Migration proposed by the Juncker Commission in May 2015. Progressively, a more united approach to dealing with migration is emerging, internally and externally. 

Internally, work has been intensified on the reform of the Common European Asylum System to put in place a more effective and fair approach, based on solidarity and responsibility, alongside continuous support to the Member States most exposed and reinforced cooperation with partner countries. 

The European Union has also stepped up its efforts to protect vulnerable groups, in particular children who are among the most exposed of migrants, including through new Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child and recommendations on the protection of children in migration.

Externally, the EU has progressively put in place a genuine external dimension of its migration policy, complementing and reinforcing its actions within the Union. The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development recognises the positive contribution of migrants for inclusive growth and sustainable development. It also recognises that both challenges and opportunities of migration must be addressed through coherent and comprehensive responses.   

Along the migratory routes, we are working to save people’s lives with our international partners, such as the UN agencies. We are fighting the criminal networks involved in migrant smuggling and in trafficking in human beings, through our Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations on the ground and by supporting regional initiatives, such as the G5 Sahel Joint Force. We are also conducting search and rescue operations at sea, with the support of the European Border and Coast Guard and EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia. These efforts help to save thousands of lives every month.   

The EU also works on opening up safe and legal pathways through resettlement – to allow those in need of protection to come to Europe without having to risk their lives in the desert and at sea. An ambitious target for the resettlement of 50,000 persons in need of international protection was set by President Juncker in September 2017. A particular focus should be put on resettlement from North Africa and the Horn of Africa, notably Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia, whilst ensuring continued resettlement from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

We also continue, jointly with our UN and civil society partners on the ground, to support concrete actions in Libya and along the migratory routes, to ensure the respect of human rights, improve migrants’ living conditions and assist migrants and refugees, who too often become victims of smuggling and trafficking networks. The establishment of a joint Task Force between the African Union, the United Nations and the EU, is an important step that will help to accelerate our joint work. In concrete terms, actions will aim to evacuate those in need of international protection to Europe, accelerate the assisted voluntary returns to countries of origin for those stranded in Libya, as well as intensify our efforts to dismantle criminal networks.  

For More Information 

Joint African Union-European Union-United Nations Task Force to Address the Migrant Situation in Libya

2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the protection of children in migration

EU Guidelines on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child

Record temperatures, refugee wishlists, and a grim anniversary for South Sudan: The cheat sheet

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:

War without end

Few anniversaries offer less cause for celebration than that marked today in South Sudan. On 15 December, 2013, a simmering power struggle between the country’s president and sacked vice-president erupted into gunfire that quickly degenerated into a full-scale civil war. As the conflict enters its fifth year, no peace in sight, the data associated with the humanitarian crisis is numbing:  7.6 million people in the country need assistance for their day-to-day survival; 2.1 million have fled to live as refugees in neighbouring states; 1.9 million are displaced within South Sudan; 4.8 million are estimated to be severely food insecure (a figure expected to rise in the coming months); and almost 1.1 million children under five are acutely malnourished. For those still inside South Sudan, “violence and human rights violations continue unchecked and have become a persistent reality for civilians,” the UN’s emergency aid coordination arm, OCHA, said, as it put the cost of addressing needs at $1.7 billion. Meanwhile, the economy is tanking and the cost of living soaring, especially in urban areas. In the capital, Juba, inflation topped 180 percent this year. A cholera epidemic of record duration – it began in June 2016 and is expected to continue into 2018 – is just one example of the country’s major health crisis. Here at IRIN we’ve been keeping a close watch on the conflict, highlighting, for example, its spread into previously peaceful regions such as Equatoria with multimedia reportage, examining the impact on neighbouring states of vast refugee flows, assessing the impact of hate speech from the diaspora, and critically analysing fruitless efforts to bring about peace.

What refugees really want

Efforts launched 15 months ago to improve international refugee response moved into higher gear recently. A series of five thematic discussions was held between July and November, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi this week gathered some 500 representatives to take stock of the consultations so far. Most absent perhaps: the opinions of refugees themselves. This timely report from the Norwegian Refugee Council remedies that. During two months of research in 10 city and camp locations in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, NRC researchers spoke to almost 300 refugees from nine countries, collecting their perspectives on gaps and challenges and trying to understand why so many moved to urban areas with little support or undertook risky migration journeys rather than accept the relative protection and assistance of camps. Strikingly, it is not material concerns such as food or even healthcare that dominate but more fundamental issues such as status and freedom and movement. What bothers the refugees most is the ability to secure refugee status in the first place, and then the freedom to move and work. Protection, basic assistance, and services are all rendered fairly meaningless without the ability to live and work in asylum countries. Major concerns cited include: government policies apparently designed to make it more difficult to claim asylum; delays in refugee determination procedures; and documentation problems that make it impossible to establish a legal identity and register births. The report called on the new Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, or CRRF, to look at efforts to secure status and documentation as a priority. It also highlighted frustrations over lack of freedom of movement and the inability to work, earn an income, and be self-reliant, noting how often the words ‘prison’ and ‘imprisonment’ were used. The report’s recommendations should be essential reading as the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, leads formal consultations on the new framework from February, ahead of its proposal to the General Assembly later in 2018. But it is the pull quotes at the side (the words of the refugees themselves) that leave the longest mark. As one Eritrean interviewee put it: “We are not living here, we are just breathing while dying inside.”

The allure of Yemen

The number of irregular migrants travelling from the Horn of Africa to Yemen and Saudi Arabia dwarfs the number migrating from the Horn towards Europe, says a new report by the Institute for Security Studies. Despite Yemen’s vicious war, the humanitarian crisis, a vigorous kidnapping and torture-for-ransom industry, and threats of deportation by Yemeni and Saudi authorities, migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia continue to travel to Yemen in the hope of reaching labour markets in the Gulf.  In 2016, a record 117,107 irregular arrivals were recorded in Yemen, 83 percent of which were Ethiopians, the rest Somalis. Based on the average payment to smugglers ($200–$500 from Ethiopia to Yemen via Djibouti), at a conservative estimate the smuggling networks earned $4.5 million in 2016. Revenues generated by migrant smuggling from Somalia to Yemen was in the range of $10 million. What’s hard to calculate are the earnings from smuggling people from Yemen and on to Saudi Arabia, the report noted. It points out that there are few incentives for governments in source countries to crack down on migration because of the remittances it generates. Similarly, transit countries also benefit economically from the smuggling business. And, for destination countries, there is a clear demand for cheap labour. The report, as now seems routine, calls for policies “that address the underlying drivers of migration” rather than simplistic and counter-productive law enforcement measures.

Building the case for human-caused disasters
 

Record global temperatures in 2016, including an extreme heatwave through large swathes of Asia, would have been impossible without the impacts of human-caused climate change, according to a recently released collection of peer-reviewed studies. The report by the American Meteorological Society analysed extreme weather in 2016. It underscored how human-caused climate change exacerbated the impacts or boosted the likelihood of extreme weather throughout the world, including drought recorded in Africa, extreme rain in China, and tinder-dry conditions that led to wildfires in North America and Australia. But the studies also found that multiple extreme weather events would have been impossible without human influence – a first for the annual report. These include extreme heatwaves, such as one in Southeast Asia that triggered record temperatures in Thailand. Drought that year impacted millions throughout the region, including two million people in Vietnam, where the worst drought in nearly a century forced the country to ask for international aid. The report adds to the growing body of research around “event attribution” science, which examines climate change as a cause of specific weather events. This research is particularly important for smaller vulnerable countries that have long called for a global system to compensate for destruction associated with climate change. During November’s climate change summit in Bonn, larger countries were accused of squashing progress toward a so-called “loss and damages” compensation scheme. But these discussions will carry on in 2018 as countries continue to thrash out how to implement climate commitments made under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Read IRIN’s recent reporting on attribution science and climate change here.

Did you miss it?

Counting the dead

Barred from investigating claims of ethnic cleansing within Myanmar, rights groups, NGOs and UN officials have instead relied on the accounts of some of the 655,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh since late August. This week, a study from Médecins Sans Frontières attempted to quantify widespread claims of razed villages and mass killings in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. Using data from household surveys in Rohingya camps, MSF researchers estimated that between 6,700 and almost 9,900 people were killed violently in the weeks following a sweeping Myanmar army crackdown. The findings, MSF says, represent a staggering tally showing that killings peaked in the week immediately following 25 August, when a small group of Rohingya fighters attacked police and border posts in Rakhine. 

Myanmar has continued to stonewall the UN fact-finding mission tasked with investigating rights abuses in Rakhine and elsewhere in the country. Instead, investigators have turned their attention to other countries where people have sought refuge: the UN investigators recently interviewed Rohingya and other minority groups in Malaysia

(TOP PHOTO: A Rohingya patient is treated for injuries at an MSF clinic in Kutupalong, Bangladesh in September 2017. CREDIT: Antonio Faccilongo/MSF)

il-am-oa/ag

Migrants to bear the brunt of scant solidarity at EU leaders’ summit

15/12/2017

“European solidarity does not only mean sharing the benefits of the EU. Problems must also be solved together” – Gabi Zimmer

Migrants to bear the brunt of scant solidarity at EU leaders’ summit

GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer has expressed dismay at the lack of solidarity on migration policy, criticising EU deals with third countries, and the narrow-minded approach of some Eastern European leaders following an EU summit in Brussels.

“Angela Merkel considers EU cooperation with countries like Turkey, Libya and Niger a great success. Meanwhile, Erdogan continues turning Turkey into an authoritarian regime, we’re financing militias in Libya that enslave, torture and murder refugees, and the Niger military profits from the trafficking and forced prostitution of refugees. Is such betrayal of human rights now what we call ‘success’?”

“European solidarity does not only mean sharing the benefits of the EU. Problems must also be solved together. Therefore, we need a fair relocation of refugees and migrants. The EU must clearly demonstrate to some Eastern European governments that racism cannot be a justification for EU policies. Safe and legal ways to the EU for refugees and migrants, better integration policies, a peaceful foreign policy and a fair trade policy with Africa are the only solutions. The EU must not criminalize refugees but fight the root causes of migration.”

On the news of an agreement that sufficient progress has been made in the current phase of Brexit negotiations, Zimmer says both sides must work to protect citizens, especially those in the North of Ireland.

“Now the British government has to show that it is serious about its promises and the EU has to assume its responsibility. The agreement needs to be spelled out and cast into legal texts in order to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and the British in the EU. The rights of Irish citizens, especially in the north of the island, cannot be impacted. The Good Friday Agreement must be preserved in all its parts and any hardening of the border between the North and the South has to be prevented. That is what the left will push for in the European Parliament.”

Calling the military pact that emerged from the Summit “a stimulus package for European arms and security corporations,” Zimmer regretted that “billions of euros of taxpayers’ money will go to research new weapons which will then be bought back with billions from the industry.”

“Weapons lobbyists dominate the EU decision-making process in this area, with little democratic control. We strongly reject the militarization of the EU. Only diplomacy and conflict prevention leads to sustainable peace and security. Those billions of Euros could be invested in social security, decent work and education in order to eradicate precarious living conditions, poverty and unemployment.”

Related MEPs

Related delegations

UN and Africa: Emergency Response Funding, Somalia’s future, and a UN Volunteer from Kenya

Listen /

Lisa Doughten, chief of the United Nations Central Emergency Respose Fund (CERF), at UN Headquarters in New York. UN News/Maoqi Li

More than two-thirds of emergency response funding
going to Africa

More than two-thirds of UN emergency response funding is still likely to go to alleviate humanitarian crisis in Africa.  That’s according to Chief of CERF, Lisa Doughten, who said after the recent annual pledging conference for 2018 at UN Headquarters that a total of $383 million had been registered for next year.  With funding this year likely to be the highest since CERF’s inception in 2006, she said next year’s total was especially important since global needs have “skyrocketed”.  A total of $22.5 billion is required overall to support 92 million people in need across the world.  Ms Doughten told Maoqi Li that donors across the world deserved a “big thank you” for their “strong support and confidence in the fund”.

Participants of the Somalia Partnership Forum held in Mogadishu on 5 December, featuring Michael Keating. UN Photo/Omar Abdisalan

Somalia conference gives hope for secure future

Somalia’s leaders are committed to ensuring a safe and sustainable future for the country’s people, but no-one should be under any illusion that this may take a long time.  That’s according to Michael Keating, who’s  head of the UN Mission UNSOM.  He was speaking from the capital Mogadishu, during a major security and humanitarian conference earlier this month.  Amid plans to draw down troops from the African Union Mission (AMISOM) stationed in Somalia and boost Somali forces, Mr Keating told Daniel Johnson how political leaders have shown their willingness to continue military reforms.

Ann Kamunya from Kenya (right) at a booth promoting UN Volunteers during the recent Global South-South Development Expo in Antalya, Turkey. UN News/Maoqi Li

UN Volunteer from Kenya shares lessons learned
serving the world

Volunteering with the UN has taught one Kenyan lawyer the value of interacting with people from around the world: something that she says “opens your mind” and allows you to grow personally and professionally.  Ann Kamunya is currently serving with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in Turkey, where she interviews asylum-seekers.  Ann trained as a lawyer and is an advocate for Kenya’s high court, but has had a passion for volunteering since her university days.  Maoqi Li spoke with the UN Volunteer (UNV) at a recent forum in Antalya looking at how countries in the southern hemisphere can support each other.

Presenter:  Matt Wells
Production Assistant:  Fatima E. Mendez
Duration:  10″00″

Press Releases: Press Availability at the Second U.S.-Mexico Strategic Dialogue on Disrupting Transnational Criminal Organizations

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Good morning. Thank you for being here. I’m glad to participate in this second Strategic Dialogue on Disrupting Transnational Criminal Organizations, or TCOs. Secretary Tillerson and I, together with our colleagues, our new Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary Nielsen, and Attorney General Sessions, are grateful to our friends from Mexico for making the trip to Washington to discuss this important topic this morning.

The threats we face today are increasingly complex and require a closely coordinated response, particularly given the 1,900-mile border shared by the United States and Mexico. Today’s conversations build upon the very productive meetings Secretary Tillerson had in Mexico in February and in Washington in May on broadening our security cooperation to confront TCOs. It’s clear that we have a reliable partner in Mexico. We continue to advance our shared goal of developing new ways to disrupt TCOs and the networks of criminal activity they perpetuate. We are strengthening cooperation with Mexico to interdict illegal transports, find and punish criminals involved in these organizations, and cut off their sources of funding.

This is a grave problem that our countries share. Deaths related to TCOs and from the drugs they peddle affect communities on both sides of our border. According to preliminary figures, more than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdose last year. The death toll from synthetic opioids alone claimed more lives than both heroin and prescription painkillers. Many of our Mexican neighbors have fallen victim to drug-related violence as well. Close collaboration is the only way we can tackle a problem that has no regard for international borders.

Today, our two countries have one of the most extensive bilateral law enforcement relationships in the world. Eleven U.S. law enforcement agencies are represented in the U.S. embassy and consulates across Mexico to work closely with their Mexican state and federal counterparts. And through the Merida Initiative, we’re helping to build the capacity of Mexican law enforcement and judicial institutions. For example, we’re providing Mexico with the tools to more effectively eradicate opium poppy and support enhanced border security. Our continued support for Mexico’s judicial reform is bringing criminals to justice and making communities more resistant to TCO recruitment.

We’ve also enhanced cross-border communications to work more effectively and efficiently together. We share more information related to migration and border security, enabling us to better identify criminal threats, analyze migration trends, and reduce human smuggling on both sides of the border. And through Merida, we have provided inspection equipment, canine units trained in fentanyl detection, as well as mentorship and training for border officials.

Through this collaborate strategy, we are seeing progress. In 2016, Mexican law enforcement seized more than 13,000 kilograms of cocaine and more than 26,000 kilograms of methamphetamine destined for the United States. In addition, the Mexican Government has successfully destroyed over 136 clandestine drug laboratories. Our cooperation is making citizens on both sides of our border safer.

Today, we’re discussing the ways in which we can accelerate interdiction efforts and improve our ability to measure progress in disrupting drug trafficking at every point along the way, including production, cross-border distribution, and sales. In particular, we are exploring ways to more effectively disrupt the revenue streams of TCOs. TCOs exploit a wide array of illicit activities as a means to make money, including through narcotics, smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, and fuel theft.

We must also go after the middlemen who benefit from these illegal activities, not just the producers at the beginning and the consumers at the end. Our respective law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities are committed to cutting off their sources of revenue. To do this successfully, we must implement new approaches that seek to improve information sharing and legal cooperation, ultimately denying revenue and seizing the assets of TCOs. TCOs are far less effective at carrying out illicit activities when their sources of revenue are dismantled. By cutting off these funding mechanisms, TCOs will lose their ability to corrupt institutions, buy sophisticated weapons, and maintain their criminal infrastructure.

Finally, we recognize that we must reduce the demand component of the drug problem here at home in the United States. As long as we continue to provide a thriving market, TCOs will keep coming to the United States. This administration refuses to ignore the problem. The United States will no longer turn the other way or sweep this issue under the rug. That is why President Trump has made a commitment to fight the opioid epidemic that has destroyed the lives of so many individuals and families throughout our country. The President has instructed agencies across the U.S. Government and even the American people themselves to do their part in curbing this tragic epidemic of addiction that continues to claim the lives of so many.

Last spring, the President created a commission to better understand and address the federal response to this epidemic and determine the most efficacious way to move forward. To facilitate these efforts, the administration has committed more than $1 billion so that we can battle addiction and fight the opioid crisis here at home. By drying up the market for illegal drugs, we will more effectively fight TCOs and the industries that prop them up.

The United States is grateful for the strong bilateral relationship we share with our neighbors to the south. We will continue to maintain and grow our strong partnership with Mexico on this critical issue, as on so many others.

Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY VIDEGARAY: Thank you very much. (Via interpreter) Thank you, Under Secretary Sullivan and Secretary Tillerson. Thank you, Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Nielsen, and of course, Secretary Osorio and Attorney General Elias and the entire teams from both countries who are working on this shared effort.

Mexico and the United States face a significant challenge and we face it together. This is a common problem. TCOs work regardless of borders, with no acknowledgment of jurisdictions. They carry out criminal activities and cause death on both sides of the border. Thousands of Americans die due to overdoses. Thousands of Mexicans die due to the violence generated by illegal drug trafficking. And we will only be able to solve this problem by working together. This is the vision that we agreed upon here in Washington, in May of this year. And today, we are here to follow up on that vision to continue to work together in that direction.

In May, we agreed that in order to work together, we must overcome this tendency, this – the blame game that we have both assigned mutually where Mexico traditionally has blamed the U.S. for drug demand, and the U.S. blames Mexico for drug supply. We must overcome this dynamic, this mutual blame game. In order to do this, we need trust. We need hard work. It means we need effective actions, and that is what we are doing here today.

We had a working session with specific goals in mind in order to comprehensively deal with the entire business model of TCOs, from supply and production out in the fields to the financial and distribution retail networks in the United States. Only by attacking this chain at every point along the way will we be successful in eliminating this scourge which is harming both countries.

We must be speedy. We must be specific. We must have analytical abilities that are data-based, based on shared, reliable data. In the end, the idea is to trust each other in order to deal with a common problem.

I would like to thank you – I would like to thank many groups for their tireless work. These groups are not necessarily out doing their work in public, but they are doing their work every day, different agencies from both governments, who work every single day in order to get results. The effort required is huge, but we are working in that direction with a shared vision and especially with shared responsibility.

This effort must not only be based on impeding the flow of drugs from south to the north. That’s a part of the fundamental effort, but it also requires that we impede – stop the illegal flow of weapons from north to south, the flow of cash. We must go after the assets of organized crime. We must stop other kinds of crimes that these organizations unfortunately commit. For example, illegal human trafficking. This effort, then, is comprehensive and we are working on this based on the premise of trust and shared responsibility.

Thank you very much.

SECRETARY NIELSEN: Good morning. It is my honor to join today with leaders from the Government of Mexico in taking on this TCO threat in the Western Hemisphere. I’d like to thank Secretary Tillerson and Deputy Secretary Sullivan for hosting us and this very important discussion.

Today we are talking about TCOs, and specifically continuing the work that we have begun in the spring to address this growing threat. TCOs are responsible for some of the gravest threats to our homeland security today, and the Department of Homeland Security takes this very seriously.

TCOs move drugs, weapons, counterfeit goods, and traffic and smuggle people, throughout their dark and dangerous networks. These TCOs are also responsible for devastating violence on both sides of the border, as you’ve heard in the previous remarks. I was at the border in Texas just yesterday and was briefed on the very violent chaos that occurs on both sides of our borders due to the networks and our inability currently to completely stop their activities.

But we must stop them, and together we will. We are mutually committed. We have discussed that this morning so far, and I look forward to continuing discussions as the day goes on. Detecting, deterring, and dismantling these TCOs continues to be of utmost importance to the Trump administration. As you see here, we have multiple departments committed to working with the Government of Mexico towards this end. It’s certainly a priority for me.

The United States is proud to call Mexico its partner in targeting this threat in production and distribution networks not only throughout Mexico and the United States, but throughout Central America. Together we can be leaders in the entire region to combat this threat.

Today, I am proud to say that Secretary Osorio Chong and I will sign a memorandum of cooperation to fully implement the Criminal History Information Sharing Program. Through this program, our U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be able to provide Mexico with the U.S. criminal history of repatriated Mexicans. The agreement we will sign today will transition to a biometric-based platform so that ICE can share biometric data, notice of more than 350 conviction codes, and any known gang affiliations with our Mexican counterparts and partners.

By sharing information and resources and increasing detection and the interdiction of illegal goods, we are combatting the TCOs that threaten the security of all of our communities. Secretary Tillerson, the Attorney General, Deputy Secretary Sullivan, and I are committed to continuing this work to strengthen and expand our efforts, and to make our nations more secure.

I thank you all for your time today and for being here for this important discussion. And particularly, our partners from the Government of Mexico for joining us today. Thank you.

INTERIOR SECRETARY OSORIO: (Via interpreter) Good morning, everyone. Thank you to our hosts. Under Secretary of State, I would like to congratulate again the Secretary of DHS, the U.S. Attorney General, our minister of foreign affairs, our attorney general, and the delegations of both countries, as well as representatives from the media.

As has been mentioned before, today we are here again to meet in order to evaluate and analyze our efforts when it comes to fighting against TCOs. This is possible due to the work that has been done in the last few months by our government departments and our agencies in order to strengthen cooperation mechanisms while we face common security problems. We have been able to, first of all, come together in a space of agreement and make progress based on this agreement, and I mean the need to have a more comprehensive, equitable approach.

Just as in any dialogue, there are many different proposals and viewpoints exchanged. But I must say that when it comes to our bilateral agenda, there is more that unites us than what divides us. The security of our people is the higher good for both administrations. This is how, for decades now, Mexico and the U.S. have worked together in order to build a more stable, secure region. And in that regard, we do have shared experience and much knowledge.

Today is clear that it is not only via the use of force and punitive measures that will allow us to put an end to organized crime and drugs; rather, this is an extremely complex problem with economic, social, financial, and logistical aspects involved that call on us to strengthen our efforts as governments. And doing this together is the only way we can coordinate our actions and be more effective. As those who spoke before me have said, it is a matter of creating more responses from a market-based perspective, restricting financing, and the weapons of criminal organizations. It is also a matter of reducing their logistical capacity and bringing down considerably the level of drug use from a public health perspective.

As for Mexico, Mexico reaffirms its strong commitment to continue in these efforts in order to strengthen institutions, especially at the local level, as a path forward in order to find lasting security. This fight has been especially difficult and painful for Mexico. We cannot forget the victims that this scourge has left behind. There has been a tremendous amount of sacrifice and effort, especially on behalf of our soldiers, our navy, our police officers. And we must not let our guard down, and we must especially not allow for impunity because there can be no peace where this is no justice, and there will be no justice unless this is in a sphere of legality.

In that regard, we have been able to design solutions to the problems that we face as a region. In order to do this, we might – we must act as sovereign countries, but we also must be good neighbors, and we must work on a basis of shared responsibility based on dialogue and international cooperation. And we must always think of the wellbeing of our societies. This is our higher interest and this is what must be held above any other interest today.

It is a pleasure, again, to participate in this dialogue, and we hope that there will be positive outcomes from this dialogue between our two countries. Thank you very much.

ATTORNEY GENERAL SESSIONS: Thank you. Now, does it work?

I am pleased to be here today. I am thankful that Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Nielsen have set this meeting up. They had a previous one in Mexico. I would note that Secretary Nielsen hits the ground running in her new position. She was at that meeting because she was Secretary Kelly’s chief of staff and remained that in the White House. So she fully understands the challenges that we are facing and the importance of the Department of Homeland Security that she leads.

We are facing a unprecedented drug crisis in America, perhaps the entire world. We have never seen the deaths that we are seeing today. 64,000 people died last year from drug overdose deaths. We’ve never seen those numbers before, or anything like it. The fastest part of that, the growing part of that, is heroin and fentanyl, the synthetic opioids. And we are taking strong action throughout our United States Government to confront that. President Trump has declared that we face a national emergency, and this government will not accept these trends. And we are determined to reduce these trends.

I had the privilege of being in Mexico for a trilateral – excuse me – in Colombia last week at a trilateral discussion of these problems – Colombia, Mexico, and the United States. Attorney General Elias from Mexico represented Mexico at that delegation. We know we can do better. And as the Secretary Videgaray mentioned, it’s an attack – it must be an attack on the entire distribution network, from the production to the manufacture to the distribution to the actual sale in our communities and on our streets. All of that, if done effectively, can begin to reverse these trends.

We’re seeing in the United States greater availability of drugs, lower prices for drugs, and greater purity of the drugs that we see. That makes them more addictive and more attractive. People talk about demand and supply; demand can create a supply, and supply can create a demand. I think we are heading in the wrong direction on both of those issues.

So it is a pleasure for me to be here. We discussed, under the leadership of Secretary Kelly and Nielsen and our Mexican colleagues, some concrete ways that we can make this better. And that’s what we intend to do. Our Drug Enforcement Administration, our FBI, our ATF, and our entire team at Department of Justice are committed to this effort. And I believe that we can and will be successful. Actually, the President sent us three executive orders when I became Attorney General; one of them was to dismantle transnational criminal organizations, and that’s what we intend to do.

MR ELIAS: (Via interpreter) Good morning. And to Secretary Sullivan, Secretary Nielsen, Attorney General Sessions, Secretary Videgaray and Osorio, good morning. We obviously are facing a problem from TCOs in both countries, but in order to combat this phenomenon, it is quite obvious that we must attack it in all its business model, as mentioned by our foreign minister. But to do so in an effective manner, we have to destroy its financial structures. This must be achieved by a clear sharing of information, informalized information, so that we can speedily identify all the points in the organization’s value chains to affect and impact their financial structures.

It is therefore important for the Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General share through efficient working groups the information needed to be able attack the structures. We not only need to look at the financial aspects, but we should expand this to look at the enterprise model used by the TCOs to move their assets and resources. How can we do this? It will be by the sharing of information and data between the two countries. This will give a major blow to these organizations, something that is needed by the societies of both of our countries. Thank you very much.

MS NAUERT: Good morning. We’ll now take some reporter questions. We have one question per principal, please; we don’t have time for follow-ups. We’ll start with Nike Ching from Voice of America, and Nike, if you could please address your question to the principal. Thanks.

QUESTION: Sure. Thank you very much. My question is addressed to both sides, that if the ongoing strategic dialogue to disrupt TCO has any implication on the NAFTA talks. Specifically, has President Trump’s promise to build a border wall and threats from the administration to pull out of NAFTA had a negative impact on joint security efforts? Thank you very much.

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Well, the NAFTA renegotiations are ongoing, as you know. Round 6 of the negotiations is scheduled for January in Montreal. And I know our negotiators have been working diligently with their Canadian and Mexican counterparts to make progress.

The United States is committed to a comprehensive negotiation process that will upgrade our agreement and establish 21st century standards. But the NAFTA negotiations and the agreement itself are only a part of the enormous relationship between the United States and Mexico. I’ve spoken about this with Foreign Secretary Videgaray in Mexico City two months ago. Our relationship with Mexico – the United States relationship with Mexico – is so broad. We have a common history, a shared border, a long history of shared culture. The volume of our trade is enormous, almost – $600 billion a year, last year. That’s $1.6 billion a day. We’re working hard to upgrade and improve NAFTA, which is an important part, but only part of our relationship with Mexico.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) I now give the floor to Armando Guzman of Television Azteca.

QUESTION: Secretary Videgaray, I’ll ask you in English and also repeat briefly in Spanish. The cooperation between the two countries in this matter has been long and high for many years. But now there is a talk because the two countries are friends and are partners. But now there is talk on this side of the border of building a wall, and also there is a talk of canceling the long partnership about NAFTA. And I wonder if this situations will affect directly this high cooperation between the two countries, and if that has been talked between the participants on this meeting, and if that has been clear for both sides of this meeting as well.

(Via interpreter) I am briefly repeating in Spanish there is great friendship and partnership between the two countries and trade relations are also important between the two. But now, with talks about building a wall and ending NAFTA, I’d like to know if this could have an impact on the partnership and the way in which these two friends and partners address the problem. Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY VIDEGARAY: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Armando. Let me be absolutely clear on the matter. Mexico cooperates with the United States when it comes to security because that is in Mexico’s best interest. We work together with the United States to combat TCOs, defending the security of Mexicans, because that is in Mexico’s interest. Therefore, cooperation occurs, not as part as a barter or an exchange between economic aspects or security or anything else; we do it with the clear conviction that this is in the interest of Mexico and the Mexicans.

That is why we are here. We are here while the commercial negotiations are ongoing and the leadership of the secretariat of commerce – while this takes place, we are also meeting here. We are here to defeat these TCOs that on a daily basis threaten the lives of thousands of U.S. citizens and thousands of Mexicans. In Mexico it can be the army, navy, soldiers, but also many young people involved in organized crime. We are convinced that this is a transnational phenomenon, that we can only vanquish definitively if we work together as a team with shared trust and vision with the Government of the United States.

MS NAUERT: Next question to Luis from the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning. I’m Luis Alonso with the AP. Thank you for this opportunity. I would like to ask the U.S. side how the U.S. evaluates Mexican efforts to fight illegal trafficking of fentanyl that you particular mention it. What percentage of the U.S.-bound fentanyl come from Mexico? And also in a more general sense, I would like to get your opinion because it seems that violence related to organized crime is rising this year in Mexico. Is the strategy working? What changes need to be made?

(Via interpreter) What I asked of the United States is how they assess Mexico’s efforts to combat illegal fentanyl. I don’t know if you would also like to touch on that topic. And in general terms about the strategy there, indicators that seem to show that organized crime violence has increased this year. What changes are needed to the strategy to revert that trend? Thank you.

ATTORNEY GENERAL SESSIONS: Well, fentanyl is – originally started mostly from China. It’s being sent in by mail directly to the United States. A considerable amount has been shipped to Mexico and then enters across the border in some fashion from Mexico. We are also seeing precursor chemicals in Mexico and manufacturing labs begin to develop in Mexico. So one of the priorities I would like to see us do is to nip that in the bud, stay very intensely focused on those laboratories, and make sure that it does not become a big problem in the future.

The fentanyl is so deadly, as you probably know. The biggest increase in deaths in the United States is from the fentanyl. Just the slightest miscalculation in the amount of fentanyl a person consumes can result in death and is resulting in death, so I believe we can make real progress there.

And the second part of your question?

QUESTION: The general strategy. The violence is continuing to rise.

ATTORNEY GENERAL SESSIONS: Yeah.

QUESTION: What needs to be adjusted?

ATTORNEY GENERAL SESSIONS: Violence is a product of wealth, it’s a product of power that comes with it, the ability to be outside the law. It threatens whole nations and the ability of those nations to function in a sovereign way. I think it’s all of our responsibilities to do all we can to reduce this threat that comes from these cartels. They cannot go to court to enforce their decisions. They do it by the barrel of a gun, and death and destruction always arises from more and more powerful cartels.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We now have a question from Jose Lopez Zamorano from Notimex.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you. I have a question for the secretary. The U.S. Congress has approved the bill 336 showing that Mexico is a partner for the United States, but we also see it in the concerns in these countries about the impact it may have on cooperation for security if the United States decided – decides to abandon NAFTA. There are also reports that the United States is also going to shift funds – for instance, payment to the DHS agency and from technology, and to use it to build the wall. What impact will this have on the bilateral impact if the United States go ahead – goes ahead with the plan for the wall and if it eventually drops NAFTA?

INTERIOR SECRETARY OSORIO: (Via interpreter) From the beginning of the presidency of Enrique Pena Nieto, one of his objectives and priorities was security. There is no collateral circumstance that can impact this seeking of peace and calm in our country. As the foreign minister pointed out, we are here to continue building on communication, on coordination, on joint efforts that go beyond the aspects of our relationship with the United States. We always do this thinking about the security of Mexican citizens, as must be done likewise in the defense of U.S. citizens by this country. Therefore, it will not have an impact on our effort or on our work and what has been started by this administration, and we will continue on this path.

Now, obviously, it is important to continue with collaboration and cooperation. Why would Mexico or the United States only think about eradication or shutting down laboratories if our countries were to continue having problems in the transfer and transport of drugs and its consumption? It would be pointless for Mexico to pursue a process to identify and capture criminals if we don’t have any information on the financial and logistic chains of the criminal groups here in the United States. Both sides are interested in obtaining information and data, so over and above any other interest, we must always place the security of the people we serve, and we will continue forward with that basic goal and objective for the government of the republic.

MS NAUERT: Dave Clark from AFP.

QUESTION: Good morning. Thank you very much. It’s a question primarily for the U.S. side. Last week, Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez Soto was arrested in Texas. He’s now in El Paso and he’s going – his asylum has been denied. He’s facing expulsion. Obviously, the TCO, as you’re talking about today, find the activities of a free press annoying. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have killed 11 Mexican journalists this year and many more in years previous. What can be done to protect journalism and civil society? And are you confident that if you go ahead with this expulsion and others that these journalists will be safe as they carry out their work? Thank you.

SECRETARY NIELSEN: Thank you. I would just start by saying that border security is a full system of systems, and the security of both our nations is in both of our interests. I think what we’ve talked about today are all of the things that can not only cross the border, but because of that, the violence that is caused, how it can affect other parts of both of our societies including the media, the social press, and the nongovernmental organizations who try to help combat these threats.

What we’ve talked about today are ways that we can further share information. We’ll continue to do that. As I mentioned earlier, the agreement on sharing criminal information specifically is meant to help both sides better understand that threat picture, and perhaps to understand who is targeted by that violence coming out – emanating from the TCOs. So we will continue to work together; it’s certainly top of mind, all the various parts of our communities that are affected by this TCO threat. And I look forward to working on further agreements to do just that.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) I now give the floor to Jose Diaz-Briseno from Reforma.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good morning. Attorney General, the United States have indicated that Mexico has a record of poppy production for heroin. Has any specific agreement been reached as how the U.S. can help eradicate poppy? And they have also said they are not satisfied with the eradication achieved by the armed forces in Mexico. Has any agreement been reached?

(In English) And for Deputy Secretary Sullivan, do you have any concern regarding human rights in Mexico, considering that the Mexican congress is about to pass a very controversial domestic security law?

MR ELIAS: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. In principle, there has not been a complaint or comment by the U.S. authorities regarding what our armed forces are doing in Mexico to eradicate the poppy fields. Quite on the contrary, we’re working together on eradication. The armed forces in our country eliminate more than 44 percent of the crops. This is an important figure; we have shared it with the U.S. authorities. In addition, the law enforcement and the criminal investigation department has also focused on shutting down clandestine laboratories that can create this substance of fentanyl. We have really struck hard at these organizations, especially in Guerrero, or the Golden Triangle – the states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa.

We continue collaborating, we continue working to identify these crops, and also to be able to assess the results achieved jointly by both the Mexican authorities and the U.S. forces. But I insist we have to work together to combat all this phenomenon of TCOs and also to hit them hard in the poppy growing. We have to hit all the organizations at all the levels of the chain. But this also has an impact in the United States. We must share information, therefore, to understand what organizations are doing in the United States so as to really achieve the dismantling of these entities. Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Thank you. Yes, on human rights, human rights is an issue that we in the United States Government discuss with our partners in the Mexican Government quite frequently. In fact, just earlier this month we had our annual dialogue with Mexico on human rights. So our relationship includes frank conversation about advancing human rights, the rule of law. That’s a major part also of our Merida Initiative, is enhancing the rule of law, strengthening criminal justice and enforcement. But human rights is an important component of that, particularly press freedom and freedom for journalists. Freedom of the press is an indispensable component of a functioning democracy. And so we’re concerned whenever we hear reports of journalists being targeted.

But on human rights, we have had an ongoing dialogue with our partners in Mexico on this, and we look forward to continuing that. Thank you.

MS NAUERT: And thank you, everyone. Thank you for your questions.