GENEVA (16 March 2016) – Europe cannot shrug off its responsibility for migrants and pass the buck to Turkey, said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau.
The human rights expert was speaking on the eve of the European Union Migration Summit on 17-18 March, where leaders of the 28-nation bloc will discuss the new agreement with Turkey to take back all migrants crossing irregularly to Greece, including refugees.
“European member states once responsible for drafting key legislation on human rights and humanitarian protection are about to abandon their obligations. In the midst of the greatest migration crisis in Europe since world war two, they are passing their responsibility off to a third-country for political expediency,” analysed the UN expert, who authored a 2015 report* on the impact on migrant rights of the management of the external borders of the EU.
“I am deeply concerned about the proposals on the table because they involve mass expulsions of migrants without proper individual assessments and asylum procedures in direct contravention of international and European human rights laws which uphold the principle of non-refoulement,” Mr. Crépeau said.
“Making Turkey the gatekeeper does not absolve Europe from its responsibility of welcoming migrants. The only way for Europe to secure its borders is to offer safe and regular channels for mobility,” he said.
Mr. Crépeau warned that increasing security and closing borders would only increase the suffering of migrants, inciting them to take even more risky journeys with smugglers.
“I have repeatedly stated that the only way to reduce migrant smuggling is to take over the market by offering regular, safe and cheap mobility solutions, with all the identity and security checks that efficient visa procedures can provide,” he insisted.
“For example, the resettlement of half a million refugees per year for six years directly from the countries of transit, if properly distributed, would result in entirely manageable numbers for the EU. For Germany, it would represent 80,000, less than 10% of the numbers taken in the past year,” the expert noted.
For the Special Rapporteur, “such orderly resettlement programme would have the added advantage to show European electorates that such numbers are entirely manageable and do not result in the chaos ,violence, suffering and deaths as often seen in the news in the past years. It would additionally help European mainstream political leaders to develop the pro-mobility and pro-diversity political discourse which has sorely been lacking in recent years and which alone can fight off the dominant anti-immigration nationalist populist discourse.”
Mr Crépeau also highlighted the fact that frontline states, like Greece, continue to be left without adequate support. He said sealing off the border with Greece will leave Athens alone to manage large numbers of migrants when it is responsible neither for the violence and poverty that pushed them to flee, nor for the lure of jobs available in northern European economies.
“A country already struggling to provide for such numbers of migrants without any meaningful support from other European countries,” he stressed. “This burden must be shared by all 28 EU states – it should be mandatory that EU nations either relocate people themselves or financially support States who are taking in asylum seekers.”
The expert expressed concern regarding reports of violence against migrants trying to cross into European States. Some reportedly faced verbal attacks, physical assaults and had their property confiscated or expropriated by law enforcement officials. Mr. Crépeau said that he was deeply concerned about some European states preventing migrants from entering a country, based solely on their nationality.
“Such actions constitute a complete disregard for human dignity, which is at the core of all human rights. Several European States have already breached their international and regional human rights obligations in this regard,” he underscored.
“I urge all European States to address this urgent challenge through a collective and well-coordinated process. Europe must now show that human rights still matter – especially during a time of crises – and apply to all, regardless of their status,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.
(*) Check the 2015 EU border management report (A/HRC/29/36): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/