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EU migration policy will fail unless comprehensive and grounded in human rights – Zeid

GENEVA (6 October 2015) – Ahead of a key high-level European Union meeting this week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on EU Member States to ensure that all discussions of migration policy are grounded firmly on the need to protect the human rights of all migrants.

Speaking ahead of the 8 October meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council, Zeid expressed concerns about the continued security-driven agenda that appears to dominate the EU’s response. He raised particular concerns about the nature of the ‘hotspot’ approach.

“These ‘hotspots’ seem to be conceived not simply as a means of registering new arrivals, but also as a way of preventing them from moving further until it is decided whether they are in need of international protection or should be returned,” the High Commissioner said. “While we welcome the efforts of the EU to offer support to the frontline Member States receiving large numbers of migrants, States must ensure that these ‘hotspots’ are not, in effect, detention centers in disguise.”

“Italy and Greece have both reduced the use of immigration detention. It is important to guard against a return to, or expansion of, a practice which is fraught with human rights concerns centred on the legality and conditions of detention,” he added. “I urge the EU and its individual Member States to avoid the ugly spectre of arbitrary or prolonged detention of people who are not criminals, and to ensure the adoption of human rights-based alternatives to detention.”

Zeid welcomed the earlier decision by the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council on the relocation of 120,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, as well as the European Council’s subsequent commitment to provide more funding to improve conditions for the millions of Syrians displaced to neighbouring countries. However, he urged the EU and its Member States to move away from the flawed view of law enforcement as the main, or sole, panacea to contemporary migration challenges, especially when so many people are fleeing their countries of origin because of serious human rights violations or decaying or collapsing economies.

“Narrow exclusion-focused policies have clearly failed,” Zeid said. “Increased border control and surveillance have not reduced the number of new arrivals – they have only forced them to use more dangerous routes, leading to increased human rights abuses and loss of life. Rather than ‘destroying the business model of smugglers,’ the emphasis on law enforcement coupled with the near absence of legal channels for refugees and migrants to enter EU territory have enabled unscrupulous smugglers to expand their business by preying on desperate individuals who have no other option.”

Highlighting just one example, the High Commissioner pointed out that the risks incurred by refugees and migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands were directly linked to the strengthening of border control and surveillance, including the fence at Evros, along the land border between Turkey and Greece.

“A few years ago, most refugees and migrants entered Greece by land,” Zeid said. “It was the sealing of the land border which, more than anything else, pushed them to resort to the dangerous sea route instead.”

High Commissioner Zeid stressed it is the duty of States to ensure that the human rights of all migrants are protected, regardless of their status. He urged EU Member States to open more legal channels for migrant workers whose skills are needed, for family reunification and for the resettlement of refugees.

“A migration policy that seeks simply to exclude irregular migrants, without taking into account a holistic analysis as to why they are moving, is unlikely to result in better management of migration. Instead, it is very likely to come at an unacceptable cost to the rights of migrants, including more deaths, detention and abuse of innocent people,” Zeid said.


For more information or media requests, please contactCécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org).

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