François Crépeau and Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, High Commissionner for Human Rights, at the 2014 Human Rights Council Annual Meeting
  François Crépeau alongside Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, High Commissionner for Human Rights, at the 2014 Human Rights Council Annual Meeting

Sealing international borders is impossible, it only empowers smugglers – New expert report warns

Press release of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
16 June, 2015

GENEVA (16 June 2015) – The ability of migrants to reach European soil despite a huge investment in securing international borders shows that sealing them is impossible, and only serves to empower people smugglers in the Mediterranean, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, said today.

“The European Union and its member states must recognize that irregular migration is a result of policies prohibiting immigration,” Mr. Crépeau said during the presentation of his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council. “Such policies only serve to open a new and lucrative market for smuggling rings, a market which could not exist without this prohibition.”

“If Europe insists on focusing most of its resources on securitisation, it will fail to defeat smuggling rings,” he warned. “Europe needs to destroy the smugglers’ business model, which was created when barriers and prohibitions to mobility were erected and which thrives by evading the restrictive migration policies of EU Member States.”

More than 200,000 migrants and asylum seekers arrived in Europe by sea in 2014, compared with 80,000 in 2013, according to current estimates. So far this year, Europe has already received over 100,000 migrants and asylum seekers who have arrived by boat, with some frontline states reporting daily arrivals.

“Migrants will come, no matter what,” Mr. Crépeau warned. “The EU will only be able to regain control of its border if it banks on mobility. Banking on mobility means that the overall goal is to have most migrants using official channels to enter and stay in Europe.”

The expert called on the EU to establish a human rights-based, coherent and comprehensive migration policy which makes mobility its central asset. “It is the only way in which it can reclaim its border, effectively combat smuggling and empower migrants,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“The EU must develop more harm-reduction policies, taking as a central concern the human rights of migrants, and create innovative regulated mobility options that will incentivize most migrants and asylum seekers to avoid having recourse to smugglers,” he noted. “Instead of forcing people into mechanisms that don’t respond to their needs, we need to understand the logic of their decisions and create policies that optimally match migrants’ skills and labour market’s needs.

“Only thus can the EU take away the mobility market from the hands of the smugglers. Open and regulated mobility at all skills levels is where the investment should be,” Mr. Crépeau stressed.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the new European Agenda on Migration, but noted that the figures for refugee resettlement are insufficient and the lack of open and regular channels for low skilled migrants coming to Europe is a huge oversight.

“The fact is that European member states rely on cheap migrant labour working in certain sectors within their economy,” he said. “States should recognize their real labour needs, including for low-wage work: to do otherwise would reduce them to being complicit with the exploitation of migrants,” he underscored.

The expert called on the EU to open up more regular migration channels and, at the same time, repress unscrupulous employers who exploit the fear of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants to be detected, detained and deported. “Effectively implementing the employer sanction directive should be a priority,” he stressed.

“Combining such policies would lead to smaller underground labour markets, less irregular border crossings, less smuggling of migrants, less loss of life at borders, less labour exploitation, and less migrants’ rights violations,” Mr. Crépeau stated.

(*) Check the full report: A/HRC/29/36.

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