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Fundamental rights of refugees and migrants at European borders

Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees Strasbourg 27 march 2020
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Fundamental rights of refugees and migrants at European borders

Joint publication from Council of Europe and Fundamental Rights Agency (EU)

The Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees of the Council of Europe, together with the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) have published a note on the main fundamental rights safeguards applicable at their member states’ external borders.

The note aims to support EU and Council of Europe member states in their duties when taking protective measures, including to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus, and addressing questions related to public order, public health, or national security challenges.

States have a right to control the entry of non-nationals into their territory. While they have to protect their external borders and safeguard public order and public health, they also have a duty to protect people’s fundamental rights. These safeguards are stemming from EU law and CoE instruments, as they apply at the EU’s external borders, bearing in mind that relevant CoE instruments apply to all borders.

The note focuses on questions such as:

  1. What duties do Member States have when protecting their external borders?
  2. Which remedies should be in place in case of excessive use of force at the borders?
  3. What are the rules in place when people cross borders unlawfully?
  4. Can access to asylum be suspended?
  5. How to respect the principle of non-refoulement ?
  6. What can be done to help the most vulnerable, in particular unaccompanied children?

For more information, see also the Handbook on European law relating to asylum, borders and immigration, produced jointly by FRA and the European Court of Human Rights.

While recognising the real threat to health and life that the COVID-19 virus poses, and the duty of states to ensure the public’s health, FRA is currently undertaking a rapid research exercise on the impact of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic with respect to people’s fundamental rights, covering all EU Member States. FRA will publish a focus report on this subject in early April.

In the meantime, the Council of Europe's European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) pointed out that protective measures must never result in ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. States should continue to guarantee access for monitoring bodies to all places of detention, including places where persons are kept in quarantine. All monitoring bodies should however take every precaution to observe the ‘do no harm’ principle.


 Statement of principles relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic


 Press release
CoE-FRA joint publication on Fundamental rights of refugees and migrants at European borders


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