Human rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers

There are alarming trends in the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, as well as of irregular migrants in all parts of Europe.
States are engaging ever more intensely in extensive border patrols, trying to deter the entry of migrants into their territory. Migrants, including asylum seekers, who do manage to enter irregularly Council of Europe member states are often criminalised, locked up in prison-like conditions, and expelled as quickly as possible – even to countries where they risk persecution and torture. However, irregular migration is not a criminal act and irregular migrants also enjoy certain rights under international law, which need to be respected.

Positions on the rights of migrants in an irregular situation
Positions on the rights of minor migrants in an irregular situation
A summary of conclusions and recommendations concerning migrants in an irregular situation, based on the Commissioner’s country monitoring and thematic reports, issue papers, recommendations, opinions and viewpoints
. (updated: 25.06.2010)

In an attempt to fight abusive asylum requests, states undermine the rights of genuine asylum seekers, who are frequently detained and unable to access fair and efficient asylum procedures.

Positions on the right to seek and enjoy asylum
A summary of conclusions and recommendations concerning the right to seek and enjoy asylum. (updated: 24.06.2010)

The Commissioner works with and advises member states to improve the protection of human rights of migrants and to ensure that undocumented migrants and their children have the right to basic health care and education. He promotes their right to protection against arbitrary detention, as well as their right not to be sent to countries where they risk ill-treatment and torture.


He draws attention to the fact that one of the most vulnerable groups in Europe today is migrant children, who often are denied basic health care and education, and run the risk of being exploited by traffickers or smugglers.

The Commissioner has also intervened as a third party before the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning the return of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin Regulation, which has lead to the groundbreaking judgment in the M.S.S v. Belgium and Greece case.


The protection of migrant rights in Europe (Paris, 5 October 2012)
Report of the round-table with human rights defenders, organised by the Office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Seminar on human rights dimensions of migration in Europe (Istanbul, 17-18 February 2011)
Organised by the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights and the Turkish Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers.
Press release published on 15.02.2011

Recent Migration of Roma in Europe

What are the root causes of Roma migration in today’s Europe? What are the human rights of Roma when they move from one country to another? What should receiving countries do to ensure that the human rights of Roma migrants are fully respected? This study "Recent Migration of Roma in Europe" published by Commissioner Hammarberg and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek, aims to shed light on these topical questions.
Press release: Human rights of Roma migrants in Europe (18.10.2010)


Latest News

EU border control policies negatively affect human rights (06.11.2013)
Greece must curb hate crime and combat impunity (16.04.2013)
Racist violence a real threat to democracy in Greece (01.02.2013)
For human rights protection, Italy needs a clear break with past practices (09.07.2012)
“Switzerland still weak in the combat against discrimination” (28.03.2012)
Luxembourg: Commissioner Hammarberg recommends further steps to protect individual rights in migration policies and juvenile justice (12.03.2012)

Human Rights Comment

Internally displaced persons in Europe: Another lost generation? (03.09.2012)
Methods for assessing the age of migrant children must be improved  (09.08.2011)

Previous comments
List of the Commissioner's Viewpoints on human rights of migrants from 2006 to 2010

Speeches and statements

"Immigration – a source of wealth and duties for Europe" (15.03.2013)
"Addressing the human rights challenges underlying the criminalisation of irregular migrants and national minorities in Europe " (28.02.2013)
"Asylum and Human Rights: trends and priorities for action" (17.10.2012)

Previous Speeches

Country monitoring

Reports and press releases classified by country

Issue Papers

Issue Papers are commissioned and published by the Commissioner for Human Rights for the purpose of contributing to debate or further reflection on a current and important human rights matter. All opinions in these expert papers do not necessarily reflect the position of the Commissioner.

The right to leave a country (2013) [in bulgarian] [in french] [in serbian]
Criminalisation of migration in Europe: Human rights implications (2010)
The Human Rights of Irregular Migrants in Europe (2007)

Recommendation of the Commissioner for Human Rights
Recommendation concerning the rights of aliens wishing to enter a Council of Europe member State and the enforcement of expulsion orders. [Rec CommDH(2001)19]

Photo gallery on immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers

Photos Sandro Weltin/ © Council of Europe
Please contact the author for the use or reproduction of any photo displayed in this gallery.