Speech at #LockedInLimbo campaign event - Protecting stateless persons from arbitrary detention in Europe

Strasbourg 11 October 2017
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It is my pleasure to be here to show my support to the #LockedInLimbo campaign run by the European Network on Statelessness, which focuses on the need to protect stateless persons from arbitrary detention in Europe.

Statelessness disrupts the enjoyment of many human rights. Thanks to the terms of reference given to me by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, I have been able to get a good insight into how this happens in the context of migration. Migration and statelessness have been historically inter-connected: persecution and discrimination of stateless persons in the countries of their habitual residence is often a reason for migration, while migration is often a factor generating statelessness.

Immigration detention is a recurrent issue in Europe and in the world today. Since my appointment in February 2016, I have visited many such places of detention. This has helped me establish that immigration detention has become a standard measure of migration management. Immigration detention is seen by states as an efficient tool and is being used widely in respect of children, women, persons with disabilities, and stateless persons. Detention is a traumatic experience for anyone. Its application for immigration purposes does not change its perceived punitive nature or its inadaptability for persons with special vulnerabilities, including stateless persons.  

Here at the Council of Europe the concern about immigration detention and statelessness has prompted actions for solutions at multiple levels:

Firstly, there is a concerted effort to define standards for immigration detention conditions.

Secondly, a comprehensive response to detention practices requires further insights into alternatives to detention. The Council of Europe has been concerned with this for several years and has significantly advanced in taking stock of existing laws and good practices. At the end of September, Prague hosted a conference which addressed alternatives to detention with emphasis on refugee and migrant children. Although states pass legislation on alternatives to detention, the practice of their implementation is lagging behind. This is a pity, because alternatives are less dangerous, less expensive and just as efficient measures. The Council of Europe will continue its work in assisting member states with practical guidelines on implementing alternatives to immigration detention.

Thirdly, as regards statelessness itself, the Council of Europe Action Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe provides for the identification of practical solutions which would avoid statelessness among refugee and migrant children. Practical guidance with appropriate solutions will be drafted to assist states to improve administrative practices, to better address conflicts of laws, non-registration of births, or lack of effective nationality.  The Action Plan views the identification of such solutions as a prerequisite for accessing many human rights.

Our experience tells us that to move things forward, Council of Europe action needs to be backed by awareness-raising and an alliance of actors that will push for change. In this sense, the campaign #LockedInLimbo is an excellent way of overcoming inertia, of keeping the issue on the table of decision-makers and in public debate. It is a constructive way of fostering engagement at different levels and I hope its voice is heard and that it will contribute to increased safety to stateless refugees and migrants and to respect of their human rights.

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