5 February 2016

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published its World Report 2016, which reviews the state of human rights in over 90 countries worldwide, covering events from the end of 2014 to November 2015. The introductory essay is written by HRWs executive director, Kenneth Roth, who argues that the fear of terrorism and disproportionate focus on refugees as a potential threat, has led to EU countries increasingly restricting their rights as well as an erroneous approach both to the increased refugee flow and to the terrorist threat.

He criticised Europe and US for ‘blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonising of refugees’ which vilified entire communities for the unacceptable actions of a few. Current European policy is counterproductive by forcing refugees to attempt to reach Europe by risking their lives at sea to claim asylum, entering in a chaotic, uncontrolled manner. Instead, increased resettlement and use of humanitarian visas would be a safer, more humane and more orderly alternative which would also allow for better security screening. Roth suggests that if all EU countries followed through with their pledges to accept asylum seekers for relocation, this could be a first step towards shared responsibility currently lacking in the refugee response in various European countries, adding that this could replace the Dublin Regulation which imposes responsibility for asylum seekers on some of the EU members least capable of managing them.

This is evidenced in the section on the European Union where HRW finds that ‘poor management and disagreements among EU member states escalated a crisis’. Among other things, it describes appalling reception and detention conditions in Greece; challenges to accommodating asylum seekers in Italy and border closures and restrictions in Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary and Macedonia. Noting that as part of the EU-Turkey Action plan, Turkey had been promised €3 billion in exchange for curbing migration flows to the EU, HRW reports that at the time of writing, Turkey had all but closed its borders to Syrian asylum seekers and was summarily pushing them back as they tried to enter.

Roth considers that in meeting the difficult challenges faced by the global community today, the wisdom enshrined in international human rights law provides indispensable guidance, warning that “we abandon it at our peril”.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 5 February 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.