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.

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.

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.

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Overview of the work

Overview of the work of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe
on Migration and Refugee issues(2012-2016)open/close

Priorities: addressing “pushbacks”; detention and criminalisation of migrants; vulnerable groups (children, victims of torture or trafficking, etc.); integration

Country visits in which migration was a focus:

  • Greece (July 2016)
  • Croatia (April 2016)
  • United Kingdom (January 2016)
  • Cyprus (December 2015)
  • Belgium (September 2015)
  • Germany (April/May 2015)
  • Bulgaria (February 2015)
  • France (September 2014)
  • Netherlands (May 2014)
  • Denmark (November 2013)
  • Hungary (July 2013)
  • Greece (January 2013)
  • Italy (July 2012)
  • Austria (June 2012)

Ad hoc visits focussing on migration:

  • Hungary (November 2015) – followed by media work and a 3rd party intervention before the ECtHR
  • Spain (January  2015) – followed by media work and a 3rd party intervention before the ECtHR
  • Serbia (November 2013) – followed by letter to prime minister

Thematic Mission on Syrian refugees (December 2013):

  • Turkey – Bulgaria – Germany – followed by media work, a short film, and a human rights comment

Additional related country work:

  • Roma migration in Norway (January 2015)
  • Internally displaced persons in:
    • Georgia (November 2015)
    • Ukraine (June, 2014, July 2015, March 2016)
    • Serbia (March 2015)
    • Montenegro (March 2014)
    • Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (November 2012)

Third Party Interventions before the ECtHR related to migration:

  • Regarding Dublin returns from Austria to Hungary (December 2015)
  • Regarding pushbacks from Spain to Morroco (November 2015)

Issue Papers:

  • Time For Europe to Get Migrant Integration Right (2016)
  • The Right to Leave a Country  (2013)

Human Rights Comments:

  • Migrants in limbo in Europe have the right to live in dignity (15/11/2016)
  • Human Rights of Migrant Women and Girls Need to be Better Protected (07/03/2016)
  • Improving protection for victims of forced labour and human trafficking (12/11/2015)
  • Without papers but not without rights: the basic social rights of irregular migrants (20/08/2015)
  • Time to debunk myths and prejudices about Roma migrants in Europe (16/07/2015)
  • Syrian refugees: Reset needed in Europe’s approach (03/02/2015)
  • Syria’ s refugees: a neglected human rights crisis in Europe (20/12/2013)
  • Decisions concerning migrant children must always be based on their best interests (19/09/2013)
  • Restrictions on defenders of migrants’ rights should stop (19/12/2012)
  • Internally displaced persons in Europe: Another lost generation? (03/09/2012)

Opinion editorials in newspapers related to migration:

  • Hungary’s Duty to Refugees, International New York Times, 29/09/2016
  • Diese Pläne sind schlicht illegal, Tagesschau, 16/03/2016
  • EU-Turkey deal on refugees disregards human rights standards, New York Times, 14/03/2016
  • A ‘to do list’ for the refugee crisis in Europe, Europe’s World, 28/10/2015
  • Europe can do more to protect refugees, Open Democracy, Berlingske, Index, and others, 02/08/2015
  • You’re better than this, Europe, New York Times, 29/06/2015
  • Crisis in the Mediterranean: Europe must change course, Open Democracy, 29/04/2015
  • Spain cannot legalise what is illegal, Huffington Post Spain, 10/12/2014
  • Europe, wake up! New Europe, 30/09/2014

Other communications work related to migration:

  • #Rays of hope series on twitter highlighting civil society actions for solidarity with migrants, 2015
  • Thunderclap social media campaign on refugee rights running up to the Valleta summit on refugees, 2015

Events organised related to migration:

  • Roundtable for human rights defenders working on migrants’  rights (5 October 2012), followed by a human rights comment

Conference presentations and lectures related to migration:

  • Panel Discussion on EU migration policy, European Society for International Law annual conference, July 2016, Riga.
  • High-Level Panel Discussion, “EU Fundamental Values, Immigration and Integration: A Shared Responsibility,” Netherlands EU Presidency Seminar, 2 February 2016, Strasbourg.
  • “Migration, Counterterrorism and Human Rights,” Presentation at a conference on “Towards Dystopian Democracies in Europe and the USA? From prejudice in migration policies to mass surveillance in counter-terrorism operations,” New York University, 22 October 2015, New York.
  • “Human Rights Challenges in Europe: Ukraine & the Migration Crisis,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 20 October 2015, Washington D.C.
  • “Migration and Asylum: Current Challenges in Europe,” Dialogues de Strasbourg, 13 October 2015, Strasbourg. 
  • “Ensuring the rights of migrants in the EU: from vulnerability to empowerment,” FRA conference, 10 November 2014, Rome.
  • “Refugee protection, migration, and human rights in Europe: Notes from the field,” Guest lecture, University College London, 4 March 2014, London.
  • “Immigration: a source of wealth and duties for Europe,” European Economic and Social Committee, 15 March 2013, Brussels.
  • “Addressing the human rights challenges underlying the criminalisation of irregular migrants and national minorities in Europe,” Centre for European Policy Studies seminar, 2 February 2013, Brussels.
  • “Asylum and human rights: Trends and Priorities for Action,” Annual General Conference of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), 17 October 2012, Dublin. 

Work with National Human Rights Institutions on migration:

  • Meeting and keynote speech at European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) in Utrecht, December 2015.

Forthcoming work on migration:

  • Issue Paper: Family reunification and human rights (forthcoming in 2017)