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Human rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers

There are alarming trends in the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, as well as of irregular migrants in all parts of Europe. States are engaging ever more intensely in extensive border patrols, trying to deter the entry of migrants into their territory. Migrants, including asylum seekers, who do manage to enter irregularly Council of Europe member states are often criminalised, locked up in prison-like conditions, and expelled as quickly as possible – even to countries where they risk persecution and torture. However, irregular migration is not a criminal act and irregular migrants also enjoy certain rights under international law, which need to be respected.

In an attempt to fight abusive asylum requests, states undermine the rights of genuine asylum seekers, who are frequently detained and unable to access fair and efficient asylum procedures.

The Commissioner works with and advises member states to improve the protection of human rights of migrants and to ensure that undocumented migrants and their children have the right to basic health care and education. She promotes their right to protection against arbitrary detention, as well as their right not to be sent to countries where they risk ill-treatment and torture.

She draws attention to the fact that one of the most vulnerable groups in Europe today is migrant children, who often are denied basic health care and education, and run the risk of being exploited by traffickers or smugglers.


Pushed beyond the limits: Four areas of urgent action to end human rights violations at Europe's borders (2022)

Available versions:
 English | French

A distress call for human rights. The widening gap in migrant
protection in the Mediterranean (2021)

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 English | French | Italian | Spanish

Lives saved. Rights protected. (2019)

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English | French Italian | Spanish

Realising the right to family reunification of refugees in Europe (2017)

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English | French

Special page on family reunification

Overview of the work

Overview of the work of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe
on Migration and Refugee issuesopen/close
April 2012 - March 2018

Priorities: addressing “pushbacks”; detention and criminalisation of migrants; vulnerable groups (children, victims of torture or trafficking, etc.); integration

Country visits in which migration was a focus:

  • Malta (November 2017)
  • Sweden (October 2017)
  • Luxembourg (September 2017)
  • Switzerland (May 2017)
  • Slovenia (March 2017)
  • Greece (July 2016)
  • Croatia (April 2016)
  • United Kingdom (January 2016)
  • Cyprus (December 2015)
  • Belgium (September 2015)
  • Germany (April/May 2015)
  • Bulgaria (February 2015)
  • France (September 2014)
  • Netherlands (May 2014)
  • Denmark (November 2013)
  • Hungary (July 2014)
  • Greece (January/February 2013)
  • Italy (July 2012)
  • Austria (June 2012)

Ad hoc visits focusing on migration:

  • Hungary (November 2015) – followed by media work and a 3rd party intervention before the ECtHR
  • Spain (January 2015) – followed by media work and a 3rd party intervention before the ECtHR
  • Serbia (November 2013) – followed by letter to Prime Minister
  • France (October 2013) - visit to Geispolsheim detention centre

Thematic Mission on Syrian refugees (December 2013):

  • Turkey – Bulgaria – Germany – followed by communications work

Additional related country work:

  • Roma migration in Norway (January 2015)
  • Internally displaced persons in:
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina (June 2017)
    • Kosovo* (February 2017)
    • Ukraine (June 2014, July 2015, March 2016)
    • Georgia (November 2015)
    • Serbia (March 2015)
    • Montenegro (March 2014)
    • “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (November 2012)

Letters to national authorities on migration-related issues:

  • France, President of the National Assembly on asylum proceedings and detention (March 2018)
  • Italy, Minister of Interior on naval operations in Libyan territorial waters (October 2017)
  • Slovenia, President of Parliament on amendments Aliens Act, emergency measures preventing asylum applications (January 2017)
  • Belgium, Secretary of State for Migration and Asylum on resuming child detention (December 2016)
  • Denmark, Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing on detention, family reunification, integration, seizure of assets (January 2016)
  • Greece, Minister of Public Order, Minister for Shipping on collective expulsions (December 2013)
  • Serbia, Prime Minister and Minister of Interior on rights of asylum seekers (November 2013)
  • Italy, Mayor of Rome on reception of Roma and migrants (November 2013)
  • France, Minister of Interior on off-site hearings for detained migrants (October 2013)


  • Family reunification (Mother’s Day) (May 2017)
  • Hungary, automatic detention in transit zones (March 2017)
  • Luxembourg, child detention (February 2017)
  • EU-Turkey statement (March 2016)
  • ‘Europe has to change its approach to migration’ (February 2016)
  • ‘European countries’ asylum and migration policies have been disastrous (December 2015)
  • Spain, adoption of Aliens Act (March 2015)
  • Lampedusa tragedy (October 2013)

Third Party Interventions before the ECtHR related to migration:

  • Regarding Dublin returns of asylum seekers from Austria to Hungary (December 2015)
  • Regarding alleged summary returns of migrants from Spain to Morocco (November 2015)

Issue and Position Papers:

  • Fighting School Segregation in Europe Through Inclusive Education (position paper) (2017)
  • Realising the Right to Family Reunification of Refugees in Europe (2017)
  • Time For Europe to Get Migrant Integration Right (2016)
  • The Right to Leave a Country (2013)

Human Rights Comments:

  • Ending restrictions on family reunification: good for refugees, good for host societies (26/10/2017)
  • High time for states to invest in alternatives to migrant detention (31/01/2017)
  • Migrants in limbo in Europe have the right to live in dignity (15/11/2016)
  • Human Rights of Migrant Women and Girls Need to be Better Protected (7/03/2016)
  • Improving protection for victims of forced labour and human trafficking (12/11/2015)
  • Without papers but not without rights: the basic social rights of irregular migrants (20/08/2015)
  • Time to debunk myths and prejudices about Roma migrants in Europe (16/07/2015)
  • Syrian refugees: Reset needed in Europe’s approach (03/02/2015)
  • Syria’ s refugees: a neglected human rights crisis in Europe (20/12/2013)
  • Decisions concerning migrant children must always be based on their best interests (19/09/2013)
  • Governments should act in the interests of stateless children (15/1/2013)
  • Restrictions on defenders of migrants’ rights should stop (19/12/2012)
  • Internally displaced persons in Europe: Another lost generation? (03/09/2012)

Opinion editorials in newspapers related to migration:

  • Eine Frage der Menschenwürde (a question of human dignity) – on family reunification in Germany, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 24/10/2017
  • EU-Turkey deal on refugees disregards human rights standards, International New York Times 14/03/2016
  • EU agreements with third countries must uphold human rights, The Huffington Post, 02/02/2017
  • Hungary’s Duty to Refugees, International New York Times, 28/09/2016
  • A ‘to do list’ for the refugee crisis in Europe, Europe’s World, 28/10/2015
  • Europe can do more to protect refugees, Open Democracy, Berlingske, Index, and others, 02/09/2015
  • You’re better than this, Europe, New York Times, 29/06/2015
  • Crisis in the Mediterranean: Europe must change course, Open Democracy, 22/04/2015
  • Spain cannot legalise what is illegal, Huffington Post Spain, 10/12/2014
  • Europe, wake up! New Europe, 30/09/2014

Other communications work related to migration:

  • #Rays of hope series on twitter highlighting civil society actions for solidarity with migrants, 2015
  • Thunderclap social media campaign on refugee rights running up to the Valletta summit on refugees, 2015

Events organised related to migration:

  • Roundtable with NHRIs on family reunification (with ENNHRI, 18/10/2017)
  • Roundtable for human rights defenders working on family reunification (22/06/2017)
  • Roundtable for human rights defenders working on migrants’ rights (5/10/2012), followed by a human rights comment

Conference presentations and lectures related to migration:

  • Address at the 1164th Plenary Meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council 16/11/ 2017, Vienna
  • “Migration Challenges to Human Rights in Europe”, Columbia University, 24/10/2017, New York
  • Keynote speech at Czech chairmanship conference ‘Immigration Detention of Children, Coming to a Close?’, 25/09/2017
  • Developments in human rights at local and regional levels, 32nd Session of the Congress of Local and Regional 29/03/2017
  • “Migration and the Digital Environment: two areas where children’s rights must be better respected”, keynote address at Conference on children’s rights, Tallinn, 4/11/2016
  • Panel Discussion on EU migration policy, European Society for International Law annual conference, Riga, 09/09/2016
  • “Empowering Right-Holders: Inclusion, Refugee Protection, the Digital Age” opening speech at the Fundamental Rights Forum 2016 "Rights, Respect, Reality: the Europe of Values in Today's World", Vienna, 22/06/2016
  • High-Level Panel Discussion, “EU Fundamental Values, Immigration and Integration: A Shared Responsibility,” Netherlands EU Presidency Seminar, 02/02/2016, Strasbourg
  • Keynote speech at European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) in Utrecht, 30/11/2015
  • “Migration, Counterterrorism and Human Rights,” Presentation at a conference on “Towards Dystopian Democracies in Europe and the USA? From prejudice in migration policies to mass surveillance in counter-terrorism operations,” New York University, 22/10/2015, New York
  • “Human Rights Challenges in Europe: Ukraine and the Migration Crisis,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 20/10/2015, Washington D.C
  • “Migration and Asylum: Current Challenges in Europe,” Dialogues de Strasbourg, 13/10/2015, Strasbourg
  • “Ensuring the rights of migrants in the EU: from vulnerability to empowerment,” FRA conference, 10/11/2014, Rome
  • “Refugee protection, migration, and human rights in Europe: Notes from the field,” Guest lecture, University College London, 04/03/2014, London
  • “Immigration: a source of wealth and duties for Europe,” European Economic and Social Committee, 15/03/2013, Brussels
  • “Addressing the human rights challenges underlying the criminalisation of irregular migrants and national minorities in Europe,” Centre for European Policy Studies seminar, 22/02/2013, Brussels
  • “Asylum & human rights: Trends and Priorities for Action,” Annual General Conference of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, 17/10/2012, Dublin.

* All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.