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10 July 2018

Put human rights at the centre of border control, says European Council

In the context of the US’ brutal management of its southern border, of the Italian government’s refusal to let the Aquarius rescue ship dock, and of a general spread of anti-migrant rhetoric and policy on the continent, the Council of Europe has seen fit to re-affirm its commitment to human rights in the context of border control. 

The statement issued last week by the Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, can be read as both a plea and a warning. 

“European states’ current approach to the arrivals of refugees and migrants has transformed a manageable issue into an extremely divisive topic, in particular within EU member states. And it has caused immense suffering and hardship to thousands of people who sought our protection. It is time that European states put the human rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, as well as the principle of responsibility sharing, at the centre of their migration and asylum policies.

Whilst states have the right to control their borders and ensure security, this cannot come at the expense of human rights. The recent adoption of European Council conclusions, as well as decisions at national levels, raise a number of concerns that European states must address in order to meet the obligations under international human rights law which they have undertaken to respect.”

 The statement commits Europe to humanitarian rescue in the Mediterranean, and chastises Italy, France and others (unnamed) for “hindering the work of NGOs.”

In addition, the statement demands heightened scrutiny over extra-territorial cooperation on migration (especially over so-called “disembarcation sites” on non-European soil where rescued migrants might be brought back to land). 

The statement concludes:

“Lastly, the focus on finding regional solutions should not undermine the right of those who arrive in Europe to lodge an application for asylum. European states must therefore always refrain from pushing people back across the border without an individualised procedure, because this practice denies them an opportunity to file an asylum application. The current focus on arrivals should also not detract from the further development of fair procedures, and ensuring adequate reception conditions to those already on our continent. There are still important and urgent steps that European states must take in this respect and a need for greater responsibility sharing among them. To avoid further tragedies, the further expansion of safe and legal routes to Europe, including resettlement, humanitarian admissions and family reunification also remains a priority.”

Read the statement in full here.