Human Rights Council Chamber

The Protection of the Rights of Migrants at the External Borders of the EU

by François Crépeau
13 June, 2015

I’ll be presenting Monday my report to the Human Rights Council: it bears on the protection of the rights of migrants at the external borders of the EU and is a follow-up of my report of 2013.

Maintaining the status quo is unsustainable as the human and resource costs associated with it are huge. Migrants lose their lives or if they survive they experience inexplicable suffering, exploitation and the violation of a series of rights. Furthermore, significant resources are lost through member states investing into an ineffective system that overwhelmingly focuses on securitisation and not maximising the opportunities offered by migration at a time of significant demographic, economic and social challenges in the EU.

Over reliance on securing borders is based on a fantasy, that which says that borders can be “sealed”, a fantasy well illustrated in the article “A New Age of Isolation for Europe?“. It is something that governments tell themselves and their electorate, in order to project an image of being in control. In reality, borders can only be regulated and the only way that countries can effectively gain control over border crossings is if they invest in regulated mobility.

Banking on mobility means that the overall goal is to have most migrants using official channels to enter and stay in Europe. For that, European Union member states must accept that migrants will come, no matter what, because there are either push factors or pull factors for them to do so. Any attempt at “sealing” borders, as the nationalist populist discourse stridently calls for, without offering many more legal avenues for migration, will continue to fail on a massive scale.

Instead of prohibition policies, the EU must develop more harm-reduction policies, taking as a central concern the human rights of migrants, and create innovative regulated mobility options – such as massive resettlement policies for Syrian and Eritrean refugees who will come anyway and “smart visas” for people looking for much needed (although generally unacknowledged low-skilled work – that will incentivise most migrants and asylum seekers to avoid having recourse to smugglers and will reduce the size of the underground labour markets.

If Europe is to witness a significant reduction of human suffering at borders, it must bank, not on strict closure and repression, but on regulated openness and mobility. In the end, it is better to recognise this mobility as an inevitable consequence of globalisation, to offer the asylum seekers and migrants what they need, and therefore create incentives to register officially, and ultimately regain the control of entries and exits from the smuggling rings and the control of labour markets from unscrupulous underground employers.

The recent European Agenda on Migration is a welcome step in the right direction, with its increase in the budget of the Triton operation for search and rescue at sea (bringing it to the level of last year’s Mare Nostrum operation), its relocation programme for asylum seekers (40.000 over two years) and its refugee resettlement programme (20.000 over two years). Although the numbers envisaged are still woefully insufficient, the Agenda signals a fundamental shift in perspective: it recognises that, despite whatever nationalist populist discourse may be at play, those on the boats are human beings and, just like the rest of us, they have rights.

Hopefully, this Agenda will succeed at convincing Europeans that isolation is not the solution and that regulated mobility offers much better perspectives in the long term.

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