In its Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) emphasises that irregular border crossing is an administrative issue and should be managed as such. The Guidelines stress the importance of terminology and that migrants should not be referred to as illegal in practice, policy or legislation, as in so doing actors go against international human rights standards.

The OHCHR Guidelines recommend encouragement for private shipmasters to render assistance to migrants in distress at sea, including compensation for financial loss and no penalisation for rescue. In accordance with the Guidelines, expert units should be deployed at international borders to assist in identifying migrant at risk, including refugees, and access to information and fair asylum procedures made readily available. Detention should always be a last resort and asylum applicants should never detained with suspected or convicted criminals.

The OHCHR emphasises that no exclusions or exceptions to human rights apply at international borders and that States’ obligations remain the same there as elsewhere. The Guidelines also highlight that the non-discrimination principle applies regardless of migration status as other circumstances.

The Guidelines were published alongside a report by the UN Secretary General, which was submitted at the request of the UN General Assembly. Their intended purpose is to support States in upholding their human rights obligations whilst effectively governing their borders.


This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 24 October 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.