Regional Thematic Study:  Management of the External Borders of the EU and its Impact on the Human Rights of Migrants

Concept Note


Globalisation, demographic and climate change, war, conflict, human rights violations and societal transformations have been contributing to movements of people all around the world. There are an estimated 214 million international migrants worldwide, of whom 44 million are reportedly forcibly displaced and an estimated 50 million are living and working abroad in irregular situations1.

Although migration to and from the European region is not a new phenomenon, since the 1990s this region has witnessed a sharp increase in migration movements. In particular, growing numbers of migrants, from within Europe, Africa and further afar are making their way across the Mediterranean and Atlantic oceans, and through overland routes in the hope of entering European Union (EU).  Indeed, with 42,672 km of external borders and 8,826 km of land borders, the Schengen free-movement area comprises 26 countries (including four non-EU states) with over 300 million crossings at the external borders in 2009 alone. 

While migration policies have traditionally been the domain of individual EU Member States, the EU has in the past two decades engaged in a process of harmonisation of the rules of admission and residence of third country nationals and established a common EU policy.  In particular since the 1990s the EU has developed an important apparatus of legislation, institutions and programmes in the area of border control.  In 2005 FRONTEX was established to enhance external border security by coordinating the operational cooperation of EU Member States and Schengen Associated Countries. Defined for the first time by the European Council in December 2005, and further developed in 2007 and 2008, the European Commission has also expanded its migration program through its adoption of the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility, with an aim to align and render more strategic and efficient relevant EU policy areas. The EU Directive on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals (2008/115/EC) established EU-wide rules and procedures on the return of illegal immigrants, including minimum standards for their treatment.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, most recently renewed by the Human Rights Council in 2011 (Resolution 17/12), requests the mandate holder to, inter alia, take into account the bilateral and regional initiatives that address issues relating to the effective protection of human rights of migrants, including return and reintegration of migrants who are undocumented or in an irregular situation. Conscious that efforts at the global level are important to address some of the obstacles in the realization of the human rights of migrants, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants believes that the regional approach of the EU regarding migration matters is highly significant regarding the treatment of migrants globally.


The objective of this study is to assess the progress made as well as the obstacles and challenges which remain in protecting and promoting the rights of migrants in the Euro-Mediterranean region, in particular focusing on the management of the external borders of the EU, and paying particular attention to the human rights of migrants in an irregular situation.  This study will include an examination of the EU directives and national policies in place with respect to visa regimes and border control. It will also examine management policies and practices, interception practices including on land and at sea, detention regimes and conditions, returns and readmission.

The Special Rapporteur will also examine the extent to which human rights are integrated into the mobility partnerships established between EU countries and non-EU countries, as this affects border management, and the implications of such partnerships for the human rights of migrants.  


Within the above framework of analysis, the Special Rapporteur will focus his country visits of 2012 to examine from a global perspective the complex issues of border control and management within the EU, using real case examples from the national level.  In this study, he will also address the impact/implications of EU policies and practices related to border control and management on countries of transit of migrants en route to EU countries.

In this regard, he intends to commence with consultations in Brussels and elsewhere as appropriate, with the key EU institutions responsible for protecting and promoting the rights of migrants, including the Directorate-General Home Affairs and the Directorate-General for Justice of the European Commission, and other relevant regional entities including the European Parliament, the European Council, the Fundamental Rights Agency and FRONTEX. He will also meet with relevant civil society actors working on these issues at the EU level.

The Special Rapporteur will then carry out visits to two countries within the EU to examine EU border management policy in practice.  He has identified Italy and Greece as priority countries in this regard, due to the fact that they are two of the main ports of entry for migrants to the EU.  The Special Rapporteur will similarly undertake two visits to two significant transit countries for migrants entering the EU: Turkey and Tunisia.

In each of the countries visited, the Special Rapporteur will request to visit reception centres, shelters and other accommodation for migrants, and border points.  He will also meet with relevant national authorities responsible for border control and migration, as well as civil society actors focused on these matters.
The following tentative timeframe is proposed:

  • 7 - 9 May: Consultation in Brussels with civil society and EU institutions to gather information on their policies, practices and plans for the subjects under examination
  • June 2012: Visit to Turkey and Tunisia
  • October 2012: Visit to Italy
  • November 2012: Visit to Greece
  • Early 2013: Briefing on preliminary findings to the relevant EU institutions 

Report and follow-up

The findings and recommendations emerging from these visits will be presented to the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council (June 2013) in the form of one thematic global mission report, with country specific attachments. The Special Rapporteur will highlight ongoing challenges in the development and implementation of policies, and will also identify best practices.  He will also provide a set of recommendations to assist Member States of the EU and other relevant States in overcoming such challenges individually, bilaterally and regionally.

Modalities for follow up will be discussed at a later stage, and may include a workshop on follow up steps.


1 UNDP, Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development, Human Development Report, 2009.