EU urged to guarantee human rights of migrants


Migration policy in the EU must incorporate a human rights approach instead of solely focusing on security concerns, a UN Human Rights Council report states.

The special rapporteur on the report, François Crépeau, dedicated a full year of his mandate to a study on the management of the external border of the EU, and its impact on the human rights of migrants.

This included consultations with the EU in Brussels, and carried out visits to countries on both sides of the EU’s external border: Greece, Italy, Tunisia and Turkey.

In the report, the rapporteur further addresses challenges in relation to the securitisation of migration and border control, the use of detention as a tool in border control, the externalisation of border control, and insufficient responsibility-sharing with external border states.

At a European Parliament-hosted event on Thursday (30 May), Crépeau said that while he welcomes the inclusion of migrants’ rights in the EU's policy framework, he remains concerned that the protection of the human rights of migrants, and in particular irregular migrants, is often not implemented on the ground.

In August 2010, the EU's border management agency, Frontex, opened its first Operational Office in Greece. Although to enhance Frontex's role in Southeastern Europe and help combat illegal migration in the Mediterranean.

Crépeau said that while the EU has acknowledged the magnitude of the task for individual border states and established Frontex to assist them with border management, this has had a disproportionate impact on member states situated at the external border and an impact on human rights of migrants entering those countries.

"I have heard repeatedly in Greece on the part of the institutions that Frontex is a good thing and funds to cope with the numbers are a good thing, but Greece is stuck with a huge number of irregular migrants on its territory who can't work because there's no labour market anymore in Greece at present, they can't return home, they can't be sent back and they can't go forward because Italy in particular is blocking the entry," Crépeau stated.

"Greece now finds itself with a huge population which is totally disenfranchised with no means of taking care of them and that creates a social and political issue that should be the responsibility of the whole of the EU," the UN special rapporteur said.

Increasing legal ways to Europe

Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström responded that she will study the new report very carefully as it's both "impressive" and "ambitious".

"We will definitely look into how some of the points and recommendations in the report can be brought forward in detail," the Swedish commissioner said.

Malmström added that for the EU, the Commission and herself personally, the respect for the rights of migrants and refugees is a key component of the policies.

The Commissioner said that the EU needs to increase the legal ways to come to Europe which can be done through changing visa regimes and also open up for more legal labour migration.

"This is a need that is here in the EU, but you are all aware as politicians and other stakeholders of how difficult it is to make that argument in the EU today where we have immense figures of unemployment. We need to deal with unemployment, but we also need to deal with the fact that we need a labour migration. We should welcome it and facilitate it," Malmström stressed.

Violence and racial issues

Georgios Kosmopoulos, a campaigner at Amnesty International, underlined that many migrants drown on their way to Europe from Africa or the Middle East as they often go in small plastic boats, and if their vessel has been caught by the coast guard, they are often being 'pushed back' to Turkish territorial water.

"During these push-backs we also see ill treatment and abuses. We thought it had gone away, but apparently it's back. When they enter Greek territorial sea, the coast guard will destroy the engine and steal gas and mobile phones," Kosmopoulos said.

"This is very dangerous, it needs to be investigated and has to be stopped immediately," the human rights campaigner said.

If the migrants succeed in entering the mainland, more dangers lie ahead.

Moawia Ahmed, coordinator of the Greek Forum of Migrants, said a racial issue has occurred in Greece over the past few years, with undocumented migrants daily being beaten up.

Many of them never report the incidents to the police, Ahmed mentioned, as they happen so often that they are now considered part of daily life for migrants.

"This [the violence against migrants] doesn't go away, it just becomes more aggressive. We don't see any improvement from the side of the state although we some small steps of improvement from the Ministry of Public Order," Ahmed said.

"It's a pity and an extremely negative development that political, democratic parties can't find a compromise, an agreement on a basic issue such as human rights. This has for me been the worst development in Greece in the past few years," the coordinator added.

Michele Levoy, director of the Platform for International Cooeperation on Undocumented Migrants, said:

"It's crucial how we are talking about undocumented migrants. Why? Because language contributes to the shaping of reality which national authorities present to their population and the rest of the world. When the use of language associates the concepts of migration and criminality by using the word 'illegal', irregular migration becomes beyond language and considered linked to security concerns and crime. That's why we find it extremely important that this report makes a recommendation to not use the word 'illegal', 'illegal' migration and 'illegal' migrants."

1999 saw the historic conflation of the security agenda with migration that would shape all the future EU policy debates on migration.

With the Tampere Agreement, the EU has situated migration around the prevention of irregular migration and the facilitation of return, with a strong focus dedicated to border control, the fight against trafficking of human beings and repatriation of migrants.

Human rights NGOs say an insufficient focus on the human rights dimension in border management has led to lack of protections for migrants, deaths at the sea and grave human rights violations in the treatment of undocumented migrants by member states and border control agencies and a lack of responsibility when these violations occur.

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