Speech at the International Conference on the Protection of Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Migrants

Nafplio, Greece 28 May 2016
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There can be no viable solutions to the ongoing migration and refugee crisis without concrete international cooperation. This is not a meaningless phrase. What it actually entails is that all of us here are jointly responsible. We cannot blame failure only on others; we must ourselves take our fair share of it. If we, international institutions, do not speed up our collaboration and exchange, then we cannot remain credible when we call for individual Member States to work together. Historic failure is ours too if we do not move ahead collectively.

The Council of Europe does not really deal with migration management as such. This is not our field of expertise. What the Council of Europe does offer, is an impressive corpus of standards on the human rights protection of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. These standards should lie at the heart of migration management, whatever the border system in place.

In this area, the Council of Europe can bring to the table many years of experience, know-how and expertise. The European Convention on Human Rights, the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the varied work of Council of Europe monitoring bodies – such as the CPT, ECRI, GRETA and others – make up our added value. Ours is the role to promote and protect the human rights of all within European jurisdictions. To that effect, we must help Member States find feasible, practical ways of doing so.

It is on this issue of practicality and concrete enforcement where, clearly, all of us must work together, in a spirit of cooperation and not of competition, to prevent duplication of effort and to secure the effective protection of the fundamental rights of refugees and migrants. 

In my few months as the Secretary General’s Special Representative on migration and refugees, I have sought to identify areas where we can work with our international partners and build upon the strong foundations that they have laid.

The UNHCR provide reliable and comprehensive data of critical importance to our work. They were also instrumental in furnishing invaluable operational assistance with my recent fact-finding mission to Greece, and are now assisting me with arrangements for my upcoming mission to Turkey. I look forward to continued operational coordination and information-sharing in future.

The European Union influences the work and standards of the Council of Europe. It provides important financial support to EU and non-EU Member States. I am keen to work more closely with the EU, bringing to bear our know-how and, in particular, our experience with our member States who are not EU members, in developing and rolling out cooperation projects in the States most affected by the refugee crisis.

The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency focuses on protection of fundamental rights in EU Member States and thus plays a complementary role to that of the Council of Europe. It can play a key part in ensuring human rights compliance in the development of EU legislation, which as a general rule falls outside the purview of the European Court on Human Rights. Recent report and current projects, for example, FRA’s guardianship report and its project on immigration detention of children, dovetail with a number of my own priorities. I hope to discuss further with FRA opportunities for cooperation and effective information-sharing in our overlapping areas of interest.

Needless to say, we are witnessing extraordinary times in Europe: new restrictive policies have been adopted, borders re-constructed, barb-wired fences built, and an abundance of unilateral decisions made. Xenophobia is rapidly on the rise. Some say that in such times we cannot uphold human rights standards, we must make concessions to security concerns. But it is crucial to remember that even in times of crises, the European Convention on Human Rights remains an unequivocal binding obligation. In fact, some would argue that it is above all in times of crisis that the Convention should be upheld, for it is then that our humanity is truly tested.

I look forward to today’s discussion on how we might be able, practically speaking, to strengthen our cooperation, solidarity and long-term collective action in our commitment to fundamental human rights principles. We at the Council of Europe welcome any such initiatives.

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