UN report holds lesson for the world on refugee displacement
Refugees entering Europe are being unduly and illegally criminalised by local authorities, denied the right to due process and basic human rights as well as being detained in often appalling conditions, according to a new United Nations report.
Last year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights dispatched monitoring missions to transit and border sites in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Macedonia and France to examine and identify the human rights challenges and protection gaps faced by migrants in these locations.
The report, titled ‘In Search of Dignity: Summary Report on the human rights of migrants at Europe’s borders’ highlights the vulnerability of the vast majority of migrants in European border transit.
The report is a seminal work, the first of its kind, and will frame responses to migration and refugee crises across the globe.
It says that the criminalisation of irregular entry and stay has had grave impacts on the situation of migrants throughout all border locations the mission visited.
“This led to increased detention, the prosecution and imprisonment of migrants in an irregular situation, sometimes alongside foreign criminal offenders,” the report says.
“Migrants in detention faced common challenges stemming from a lack of access to information, legal aid services and medical care.
“Criminalising migrants for crossing borders without authorisation also fosters a security-focused response to migration, closing borders and using other punitive measures that fail to provide adequate protection to migrants, often placing them at a higher risk of suffering abuse and exploitation,” it says.
“This in turn benefits the business of smugglers and deprives migrants of access to services and to justice for crimes and human rights violations committed against them, as they fear deportation or imprisonment,” the reports says.
It recommends the decriminalisation of irregular migration and the provision of protection status to migrants who cannot be returned home.
The report found that the safeguards to prevent violations of the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of arbitrary and collective expulsions were either absent, weak or not adhered to in practice.
It called on governments and the EU to prohibit collective expulsions I which individuals are not given a hearing as well as dangerous interception measures.
The report also found many migrants were vulnerable; in many cases, pregnant, disabled, suffering the effects of trauma or sexual abuse.
It said there was no mechanism in pace to identify these people and a scarcity of trained staff to help them.
It recommended “robust procedures to allow the rapid identification of vulnerable people as well as sufficient physical and mental health care.
The report said there was a general lack of access to information for migrants about their rights and situation.
“Many migrants did not know what would happen to them next; why they were being detained, moved or left stranded in a particular place,” the report said.
“Many lacked information regarding asylum procedures, what services were available to them; or the options they had within the legal procedures for reuniting with their families, for relocation, or regarding their rights in return procedures,” it said.
It recommended the provision of meaningful information to enable migrants to make informed decisions.
The report also recommended the end of mandatory detention of all migrants, including children, which if found to be used in many of the locations visited.
It also called for then provision of safe accommodation migrants with access to sufficient water and food as well as sanitation facilities.
The report made particular mention of the protection of children calling for the end of all forms of detention for migrant children and the creation of suitable shelter spaces for families with children or unaccompanied and separated children.
“…the responses of States to ensure protection of the rights of migrant children were inadequate. The lack of effective protection of migrant children’s rights was observed in informal, formal, open and closed facilities,” the report said.
It also called on states to condemn and take action against racism against migrants and unfettered access for independent human rights monitoring groups.
In conclusion, the report says that States relying excessively on an emergency and security-focused approach to migration governance over one that is migrant centred and human rights-based.
“Restrictive laws and policies, criminalisation of irregular entry, the increased use of detention practices or swift return procedures without robust due process guarantees, have far-reaching impacts on migrants’ safety, health and ultimately, their dignity,” the report says.
“The teams found that the lack of adherence to minimum standards under international human rights law of particular migration measures invariably had a knock-on effect, leading to negative impacts on a range of migrants’ human rights.” the report said.
The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner is former Jordanian diplomat Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist