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Migrant crisis: “Let’s not pretend Europe’s response is working” – UN rights expert warns

GENEVA (25 August 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, today called on the European Union to establish a human rights-based, coherent and comprehensive migration policy* which makes mobility its central asset. “It is the only way in which the EU can reclaim its border, effectively combat smuggling and empower migrants,” he said.

“Let’s not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working. Migration is here to stay,” Mr. Crépeau stressed. “Building fences, using tear gas and other forms of violence against migrants and asylum seekers, detention, withholding access to basics such as shelter, food or water and using threatening language or hateful speech will not stop migrants from coming or trying to come to Europe.” 

“Territorial sovereignty is about controlling the border, knowing who comes in and who leaves. It has never been about sealing the border to migration,” the expert said. “Democratic borders are porous by nature. Providing migrants and asylum seekers with legal and safe mobility solutions will ensure such a control.”

The Special Rapporteur urged Europeans to start focusing on regaining control of their external border from the smugglers by increasing mobility solutions available to most migrants, investing in integration measures – especially through supporting the action of cities – and developing a strong public discourse on diversity and mobility as cornerstones for contemporary European societies.

“If Europeans want their governments to regain control of their borders, then they must urge them to bank on mobility and offer migrants and asylum seekers official channels to enter and stay in Europe,” the human rights expert said.

“Opening up the regular labour markets through smart visas allowing people to come to look for work and incentivise them to return if they don’t find the job in question would allow for a much better regulated and controlled official labour market,” Mr. Crépeau noted.

However, he cautioned, such measures must be supported with sanctions against employers who exploit irregular migrants in underground labour markets (in agriculture, construction, care or hospitality). “This would considerably reduce the pull factor they exercise on irregular migrants and further reduce the market for recruiters, smugglers and exploitative employers,” the expert said.

“In addition, there is an obvious urgent need for Europe to create, jointly with other Global North countries, a massive resettlement programme for refugees like Syrians and Eritreans that could offer protection to 1.5 or 2 million of them over the next five years,” he said, highlighting that such a programme would impact the market for smugglers and allow European countries to decide who comes and make appropriate preparations.

The Special Rapporteur recalled that, last year, saving lives of migrants and asylum seekers at sea was seen as a moral imperative by the international community, which then put pressure on the EU to intervene and save the lives of those on the boats. The expert welcomes the positive steps taken by the EU and its member states in rescuing migrants and asylum seekers at sea. “However, rescuing people who arrive by sea and then turning a blind eye to their plight leaving them vulnerable to human rights violations is irresponsible,” the expert said.

“Talking about ‘flows’, ‘marauders’, and ‘swarms’ is an unsubtle way of dismissing the legitimacy of the asylum seekers and migrants’ claim to human rights, by creating images linking them to toxic waste or natural disasters” he noted. “We are talking about men, women, children and even babies, who have faced traumatic experiences. These are people just like you and me, and none of us have the moral high ground to say that we would never do the same if we were in their shoes.”

The UN Special Rapporteur warned that the political and popular discourse in Europe has seen a race to the bottom in the anti-migrant sentiments and use of inappropriate language which is often linked to criminalising migrants. “Migrants are human beings with rights. When we dehumanise others, we dehumanise ourselves,” he underscored.

Mr. Crépeau called on European political leaders “to show moral and political leadership in fighting much more vigorously racism, xenophobia and hate crime, in consolidating the common human rights culture that is now framing the evolution of all traditions, in strengthening the free movement of persons throughout the EU while developing regulated mobility solutions at its external borders, and in celebrating the diversity of cultures and religions as enrichment for everyone, citizens and foreigners alike.”

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s June 2015 report on the EU, “Banking on mobility over a generation”, (A/HRC/29/36):  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session29/Pages/ListReports.aspx

François Crépeau (Canada) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in June 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three years. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Crépeau is also Full Professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University, in Montréal, where he holds the Hans and Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law and is scientific director of the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Migration/SRMigrants/Pages/SRMigrantsIndex.aspx 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

Check all the reports by the Special Rapporteur:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Migration/SRMigrants/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx 

Read the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CMW.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact: Elizabeth Wabuge (+41 22 917 9138 / ewabuge@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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