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Migrant crisis: “High time for Europe to reclaim a leading role in human rights” – UN experts

GENEVA (9 October 2015) – Representatives of the largest body of independent experts* in the United Nations human rights system call on all European States, in particular the EU and its Member States, to collectively and individually root their response to the large influx of asylum-seekers and migrants into their territory, particularly at their borders, in their human rights obligations.

The human rights experts also urge all Governments across the world to increase their efforts to accommodate people fleeing conflict or in need of protection.

“Following the outcome of yesterday’s meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council, we welcome the Council’s affirmation that respect for human rights and for the principle of non-refoulement is an essential part of a comprehensive EU migration policy. 

Asylum-seekers and migrants are all entitled to protection of their human rights and must be properly and individually assessed in order to establish their specific protection needs, including as a means to prevent trafficking and exploitation. Special attention must in this regard be paid to the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied children.

However, we express concern about the continued focus on enhancing EU external border protection and increasing return rates of migrants. The outcome of yesterday’s meeting was a missed opportunity to adequately address the increased number of irregular migrants arriving in Europe in order to seek safety. Additionally, the fact that resettlement will still be made only on a voluntary basis means that only a handful of EU member states will continue to shoulder the responsibility of safeguarding the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers who arrive irregularly.

It is time for Europe to reclaim its role as a true advocate and political leader of human rights by undertaking concrete steps to safeguard the human rights of asylum seekers and migrants.

We acknowledge recent decisions of some EU Member States to admit a significant number of asylum-seekers, and their commitments to ensure access to their rights. The outpouring of assistance by NGOs, faith groups and countless individuals has been remarkable.

However, while recognizing the competence of States to regulate migration into their territories, we call on the EU and its Member States to show a similar commitment and to ensure that all future decisions, policies and actions, in this regard, are firmly rooted in international human rights law.

We expect the EU and its Member States to rise to the occasion. While acknowledging that countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are hosting vast numbers of refugees we also call on all other States - in Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas - to equally increase their efforts to accommodate people fleeing conflict or otherwise in need of protection.

Europe has played an important role in defending the founding principles of human rights, affirming that all human beings are rights holders and that all human rights are equal and interdependent. The European Union and its Member States have saved the lives of many men, women and children trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Some European States, however, have chosen to ignore the plight of desperate migrants and asylum-seekers leading to egregious violations of their human rights.

In light of this, we urge all European States - as well as States in other regions - to take the steps necessary to uphold the human rights of migrants and asylum-seekers under all circumstances.

We are very concerned about the many reports of violence against asylum-seekers and migrants trying to cross borders into European States. Some asylum seekers and migrants are reportedly being arbitrarily detained while others are denied access to food, housing, water and sanitation, and health care.

Such actions constitute a complete disregard for human dignity, which is at the core of all human rights. Several European States are dangerously close to breaching and some have already breached their international and regional human rights obligations.

We strongly condemn the xenophobic speech and actions taken against asylum-seekers and migrants that are being increasingly reported from certain European States as well as other parts of the world.

The use of racist and xenophobic language against asylum-seekers and migrants is truly appalling. It is not only coming from nationalist populist groups but also from members and even heads of government. Dehumanizing language that compares migrants and refugees to insects, animals, natural disasters or criminals is particularly dangerous and alarming.

All leaders in government and civil society must reject any advocacy for hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, in line with international human rights standards.

We urge all European States to work together to find an effective and meaningful solution to the current migration crisis, taking place in the region. The responsibility cannot be left to a few States; every State must take responsibility for its role in addressing this urgent challenge, through a collective and well-coordinated process.”


'Special procedures' is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic human rights issues in all parts of the world. Currently, there are 41 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 78 active mandate holders. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides these mechanisms with support for the fulfilment of their mandates. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

For more information and media inquiries, please contact Nathalie Rondeux (+41 22 917 9251 / nrondeux@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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