At their last Ministerial Session, in Helsinki May 2019, Foreign Ministers emphasised the need to continue addressing the challenges arising from global migration. The Council of Europe’s engagement with the issue of migration should continue, taking into account the added value our organisation represents: based on our human rights standards, we should assist member states to overcome migration related challenges.
In line with the Helsinki Ministerial decision, the SG has also expressed that she is determined to enhance the Council of Europe’s assistance to our member states in fulfilling their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and other Council of Europe standards and to work with other international organisations to foster co-operation.
As a newly appointed SRSG, my mandate, among others, encompasses this important outreach.
As you are well aware, my predecessor has had a special mandate on refugee and migrant children, hence the special focus of his fact-finding missions and the coordination role of the Council of Europe Action Plan on protecting refugee and migrant children in Europe. I am aware of the successful PACE campaign on ending immigration detention of children, which contributed to meeting the objectives of the Action Plan.
The initiatives undertaken in the framework of the implementation of the Action Plan represent some of the most ambitious and successful actions of our organisation in the migration field. We have already achieved tangible progress:
- Guidance on alternatives to immigration detention, including tailored alternatives for children, child-friendly approaches to migration procedures and to communication with children in migration;
- European qualification passports for refugees (recognising education credentials);
- CM Recommendation (2019)11 on effective guardianship to unaccompanied and separated children in the context of migration and CM Recommendation (2019)4 on support measures for young refugees in transition to adulthood;
- Our European Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) offering courses on refugee and migrant children, on asylum and the ECHR, and soon also on alternatives to immigration detention.
Just to name a few.
These results were also confirmed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, acting President of the Committee of Ministers during his communication to the PACE on Monday. He also informed you that the Committee of Ministers will examine the final report on the implementation of the Action Plan in the coming weeks with a view of deciding on a possible follow-up of this plan.
I intend to keep a close eye on the situation of children as the circumstances of their reception and care in Europe need further improvement. I am convinced that the occasion for me to present in late February, the results of the Action Plan, will be also an important opportunity to engage with the Committee of Ministers in a constructive discussion on the form and scope of a meaningful follow-up.
Where we need further progress:
- We need to tackle the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, violence against women, human trafficking and the activities of smugglers;
- Based on the important recommendation adopted end of last year, guardianship systems across Europe must be strengthened to ensure that children benefit from the assistance of a guardian as soon as possible after their arrival, and in any case before any formal procedures for asylum or age assessment have begun;
- Age assessment procedures should respect the dignity and physical integrity of children;
- Continue to support those, who arrive in Europe as unaccompanied teenagers to help them in transition to adulthood, with the attendant increase in independence and responsibility, in unfamiliar cultures.
Allow me to also echo the point made by the President of the CM on Monday in his communications to the Assembly, namely the valuable role the Assembly is playing by also addressing current challenges related to human rights protection in the field of migration.
I would like to use this opportunity to commend the Committee in particular, for its reports, resolutions and recommendations on topical migration issues. They represent an important contribution not only to the parliamentary dialogue but also to the political dialogue in the Committee of Ministers and to subsequent actions in the entire organisation. In respect of refugee and migrant children, your initiatives to address, for example, the need to harmonize the protection for unaccompanied and separated children, to stop violence and exploitation of migrant children, and for human rights compliant age-assessment procedures are greatly appreciated.
In connection to this week’s work, I would like to express my appreciation to the call for further action resulting from your draft recommendations on missing refugee and migrant children, and on smuggling and trafficking of migrants. The reports complement each other and pinpoint the need for sustained focus and comprehensive action on behalf of the Council of Europe, as suppressing smuggling and combatting trafficking is essential in order to prevent children from going missing. Effective guardianship, as aptly discussed just earlier, is key in the protection of children. All these perspectives have been explored by the Action Plan:
- The guardianship recommendation just mentioned above is among the important achievements of the Action Plan;
- The work of CDPC on fostering international co-operation to suppress smuggling has been carried out under the umbrella of the Action Plan;
- And focus on the identification of child victims of trafficking along with ongoing monitoring by GRETA are all part of the second pillar of the completed Action Plan.
Let me also emphasise the ongoing work in the area of smuggling outside the scope of the Action Plan:
- The Council of Europe has also made the question of the criminal justice response to the smuggling of migrants one if its top priorities in the recent years, and taken several steps with a view to identify which measures could best serve the scope of improving international co-operation against this criminal phenomenon. The alarming situation in the CoE member states, both transit and destination countries, and beyond, constitutes an important basis to continue our work in this regard.
- It is important to continue our enhanced cooperation and coordination with a view to achieve better results also in this area.
Finally, let me emphasise that as newly appointed SRSG, I look forward to our regular exchange of views, and would also like to express my availability to meet with members of PACE, and especially of this Committee also individually, to discuss issues of relevance, of interest.