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Migration and nationality

Pushbacks of migrants on land and at sea must end, says UN expert

09 July 2021


In his latest report to the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Felipe González Morales said that States must put an end to pushback practices and ensure that current COVID-19 travel restrictions do not deny effective access to asylum and protection under international law.

Thousands of migrants around the world risk their lives to cross international borders for safety. Many of these people are in vulnerable situations who have lost their lives or face injury in their desperate attempt at a better life, according to a new report by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Felipe González Morales. 

“My mandate has received substantive information revealing worrying trends of pushbacks of migrants carried out along most migration routes,” González Morales said.

González Morales presented the report at the 47th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

González Morales defined pushbacks as “an overarching term for all measures, actions or policies that effectively result in the removal of migrants, individually or in groups, without an individualized assessment in line with human rights obligations and due process guarantees.”

He recognized the challenges States face due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While global public health crises may require travel restrictions, screening, testing, medical quarantine or isolation measures, these measures may not result in denying effective access to asylum and protection under international law,” González Morales said.

The report highlights the global trends that contribute to the loss of life and injury including the militarization of border patrols increasing the risk of human rights violations, collective expulsions  of migrants, heightened risks of refoulement and chain-refoulement, the use of force involved in some pushback operations, externalization of border governance measures, bilateral and multilateral agreements that fail to uphold human rights obligations, and denial of access to territory or access to asylum by States.

González Morales pushed for an end to harmful pushback practices of migrants on land and at sea, which he sees as a widespread global phenomenon, and to “respect the prohibition of collective expulsion” and to guarantee that no one would be returned to a country where they are at risk of being tortured, murdered or other irreparable harm. 

Pushback at sea involves delays in search and rescue, and in disembarkment, are also putting thousands of migrants at risk and lead to the tragic death of many, including woman and children, González Morales explained.

The report provides a number of examples of this. For instance, Italy failed to promptly respond to a distress call and dispatch a vessel to rescue over 200 migrants, including 60 children, at sea, who died as a result. In June 2020, Iranian authorities pushed back a group of Afghan migrants through a border river and resulted in the death of at least 10 individuals, including one child, and in the disappearance of 15 others. And, in 2020, thousands of migrants were expelled from Libya and were sent to Chad, Egypt and the Sudan, said the report.

González Morales advised States to develop a human rights-based, gender-responsive, age-and-child-sensitive approach to migration and border governance that guarantees the human rights of migrants.

“I urge States to promptly and thoroughly investigate allegations of human rights violations and abuses at the international borders; and establish effective independent monitoring mechanisms and ensure access to all migration-related facilities and procedures to monitor their compliance with international human rights laws and standards,” he said.

9 July 2021