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European states must stand up against pushbacks and the attempt to legalise them

Statement
Strasbourg 21/10/2021
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European states must stand up against pushbacks and the attempt to legalise them

“Member states must take a stand against pushbacks at borders and clearly oppose attempts to legalise this illegal practice”, said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović.

Human rights violations against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants at the borders of Council of Europe member states have proliferated at an alarming rate, especially the denial of access to asylum and returns without individual safeguards, frequently accompanied by brutal violence or even the endangerment of human life. Such practices at borders (often referred to as ‘pushbacks’) undermine legal guarantees clearly established in the Refugee Convention and European Convention on Human Rights. Practices violating the right to apply for asylum, the prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, and the prohibition of collective expulsions, are increasingly justified as a necessary way to address emergency situations.

It is time for the governments of European states to call a halt to any legislative initiatives or policies that would result in the attempted, so-called normalisation of pushbacks and eliminate crucial safeguards to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants at borders.

Now is a crucial moment to speak out. Shortly after 12 member states of the European Union proposed to “adapt the existing legal framework to the new realities” at their borders, and amid growing talk of legalising pushbacks, EU leaders will come together in Brussels to discuss migration policy.

While some member states certainly face challenging situations, any suggestion that this should allow them to set aside or cherry-pick key human rights protections must be emphatically rejected.

Additionally, steps must finally be taken by all European states to hold each other to account for these violations. These often occur in the name of ‘protecting Europe’s borders’, are driven by a joint focus on deterrence, and sometimes benefit from financial or material assistance from other member states. Importantly, the lack of real solidarity in hosting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants across Europe must be tackled. Although the lack of solidarity cannot be an excuse to violate rights, it creates a powerful incentive for countries of first arrival to push people back. As such, it requires European states to face up to their joint responsibility to tackle this serious human rights problem on our continent.

Pushbacks are a violation of human rights. They cannot be legalised.