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Statement on the new EU Pact on migration and informal visit in Strasbourg

On 23 September 2020, the Special Representative on Migration and Refugees Ambassador Drahoslav Štefánek, together with the Regional Representative for Europe of the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), Birgit Van Hout, welcomed the presentation of the European Commission’s new Pact on Migration and Asylum. “The Pact offers an opportunity for more effective migration governance in Europe based on a commitment to human rights and respect for the dignity of migrants.” said Ambassador Štefánek. He underlined the heightened duty of care of States towards migrants in vulnerable situations, such as unaccompanied children. “We welcome that the Pact addresses this question” – he added. The OHCHR Regional Representative, Birgit Van Hout, stated that the Pact is a unique opportunity to lead by example. “Migration policies are only sustainable if they are rooted in human rights and carried out in accordance with international and regional standards, including the prohibition of arbitrary detention and collective expulsions, such as pushbacks. It also means guaranteeing due process, respecting the principle of non-refoulement, and making sure that forced expulsions are safe and dignified. We welcome that the Pact proposes an independent monitoring mechanism to ensure the respect for human rights", she said. They expressed their readiness to cooperate with the EU and its member states and offered their expertise within their respective mandates to this endeavour.

On 17 September 2020, the Special Representative hosted the 5th Meeting of the inter-secretariat Co-ordination Group on Migration at the Council of Europe. He presented his updated mandate and thematic priorities, such as focusing on vulnerable refugees and migrants. He also presented the activities of the office, including co-operation with international organisations (EU, FRONTEX, FRA and UNHCR), the launch of two publications on Family reunification for refugee and migrant children and on Promoting Child friendly approaches in the area of migration, as well as the preparation of the new Action Plan in the field of migration. He also briefed the participants on the latest developments on the work of the Focal points network, to which 40 Council of Europe member states have nominated representatives for migration. The presentation was followed by a tour de table, where some 40 different entities within the Council of Europe outlined their activities on this field and proposals for joint work with the SRSG and his office.

On 16 September 2020, the Special Representative addressed the meeting of Congress Current Affairs Committee “Protecting minorities in cities and regions in times of fundamental crisis: Lessons learned during the covid-19 outbreak”.He recalled that, as early as 2017, the Congress had underlined the role of local authorities in providing a first point of access for migrants and asylum seekers in housing, health and education matters. “During a health pandemic, such as COVID-19, refugees are at particular risk. The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and the problems faced by them before, such as access to healthcare, to welfare services, to education and to employment and intolerance and hate speech associating specific ethnicities with the virus and its economic impact”, the Special Representative Štefánek said.

From 11 to 15 September 2020, the Special Representative conducted a series of informal visits in Strasbourg, during which he met with local authorities, NGOs and representatives of reception centres. The aim of the visit was to collect good practice examples that could be shared with other Council of Europe member states as well as in the future visits of the Special Representative. The situation of the most vulnerable in times of the Covid-19 pandemic was the focus of the visit.