Will the EU stop detaining migrants at last?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

It has become a routine in the EU to use detention against migrants and asylum seekers, including children. This is clearly in breach of the international refugee law and against all international standards, writes Jorge Nuño Mayer.

Jorge Nuño Mayer is the Secretary General of Caritas Europa.

"The EU has the opportunity to remediate the human rights situation concerning detention of asylum seekers, now that the Union will design the asylum and migration policies in the Post-Stockholm Programme.

We are all well aware that in today’s Europe, migration is a topical subject that is often fed by a negative discourse. In the context of economic crisis, xenophobia, and racism, migrants and refugees are often confronted with negative experiences in their everyday lives in Europe. EU home affairs policies can and must play a central role in overcoming this negative reality.

One of the crucial building blocks of the European asylum policy is the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), also referred to as the ‘asylum package’. After 5 years of intense negotiations, the recast was finally adopted in June 2013.

There are some positive changes achieved by the recast. Like the strengthening of the right to a personal interview, better representation for unaccompanied children, the further approximation of protection statuses under EU and a somewhat quicker access to the labour market for asylum seekers.

However, the previous Stockholm Programme called for a CEAS that is based on high standards of protection and that ensures that similar asylum applications are treated alike and result in the same outcome regardless of the Member State in which they are lodged. In this sense, there are some components in the recast that allow for thinking that the EU might not fully secure migrants’ and refugees’ human rights and human dignity. For example, the recast fails in many ways to incorporate top human rights standards to which all EU Member States have subscribed in several international agreements.

For instance, if we focus on the practice of detention in the EU; though the international refugee law clearly states that nobody should be detained for the sole reason of seeking asylum, most Member States do routinely detain migrants and asylum seekers. What is even more scandalous is the detention of migrant children. This goes completely against international standards!

Children must not be detained under any circumstances!   Confining children to detention facilities has major negative impacts on their mental and physical health. Asylum?seeking and refugee children must be treated first and foremost as children. Their rights and protection needs must be given priority in all migration policies.

The recast of the Asylum package had the potential to make migrant/asylum seekers detention truly exceptional. But it failed to do so. The EU as a whole has been wearing this badge of shame for too long. It is about time for Member states to  adopt  efficient measures to stop detaining people routinely and to stop detaining  children.

While planning for the next 5 years, the European Commission should make sure that the “asylum package” will be implemented correctly in the Member states and that high level protection keeping at heart the human dignity of all people will be assured in EU asylum policies.

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