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UN expert urges the EU to see beyond security and border control in its migration partnership with Tunisia

GENEVA / TUNIS (12 June 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, called on the European Union to move beyond the security and border control discourse, and further develop the Migration and Mobility Partnership currently being negotiated with Tunisia by concentrating on the respect, protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants.

“A large majority of regional migration initiatives coming from the EU continue to be focused on issues of border control, and do not consider important issues such as the facilitation of regular migration channels,” said Mr. Crépeau* at the end of his first visit to Tunisia (3-8 June), as part of his yearlong study on the management of the EU external borders, which will take him to key transit countries and entry points.

“I encourage the European authorities to develop a more nuanced policy of migration cooperation with Tunisia, which moves beyond security issues to develop new initiatives in consultation and in real partnership with Tunisian authorities, which place at their core the respect, protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants,” he said.

In addition, the Special Rapporteur urged EU member states to take all necessary measures to rescue migrants in distress in the Mediterranean, including rescuing ships and taking those on board to a safe port of disembarkation, and intensify its efforts to search for the 300 Tunisians who are reported to have disappeared in the Mediterranean.

Mr. Crépeau also drew attention to the situation of migrants in Tunisia, and expressed concern that irregular border crossing remains a criminal offence in the country, contravening fundamental principles of human rights including the right to leave ones country.

“Whilst the Tunisian authorities insist that this is not regularly applied against Tunisians, I learned of cases where it was in fact used, including against foreigners entering Tunisia irregularly, and who were subsequently imprisoned for the alleged offence,” he said. “I also met with an unaccompanied minor who had been charged with crossing the border into Tunisia illegally, and sentenced to 9 days prison.”

The rights expert also noted that there is no adequate refugee status determination procedure in Tunisia. “The establishment of a clear asylum determination procedure, would protect the rights of these vulnerable individuals, and may better facilitate the early recognition of certain categories of migrants crossing the border into Tunisia who may be deserving of refugee protection.”

Migrants who either find themselves without valid documents or who have served a prison sentence are often sent to ‘centres d’accueil et d’orientation’ in order to be deported. “As long as persons are deprived of their liberty in these facilities, they are in fact detention centres,” Mr. Crépeau stressed. “I am particularly concerned that minors are held in these centres as well. Detention should be a measure of last resort, alternatives to detention should be developed, and detention should certainly never be applied against unaccompanied minors.”

During his six-day mission, the Special Rapporteur visited Tunis, the Port of Zarsis, the border point with Libya at Ras Jedir, places of migrant detention, including prisons and reception centers, and the Choucha Refugee camp. He met with Government, civil society and international organisations representatives, and with migrants from a range of countries residing in Tunisia.

The yearlong project launched by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants will result in a special thematic report which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2013.

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://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/migration/rapporteur/index.htm

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12231&LangID=E

Check the Address by the Special Rapporteur to the UN General Assembly (21 October 2011):

Read the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cmw.htm

For more information and media requests, please contact: Jacqui Zalcberg (+41 917 9271 / jzalcberg@ohchr.org) or Christel Mobech (+41 917 9995 / cmobech@ohchr.org) write to migrant@ohchr.org

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

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