The systematic use of detention of irregular migrants and asylum seekers has come to be viewed as legitimate across the EU, despite EU legislation stipulating that detention only be used as a last resort, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, François Crépeau, said this week, presenting the findings of his latest report at a conference at the European Parliament hosted by PICUM, in association with Amnesty International, the Open Society Foundations and the Greens-EFA European Parliamentary group.

According to the observations of the Rapporteur, alternatives to detention are not explored, despite the obligation to do so, and detention is used as a deterrent and punishment for irregular migrants, despite no evidence that it is effective in this purpose. Furthermore, in many cases, detention serves no purpose at all, as the people detained are later released as they cannot be deported.

The report urges the EU to promote viable alternatives to detention and not insist on further entrenching detention as a migrant control mechanism through support for expanded networks of detention centres.

Crépeau also notes in his report that while the Stockholm Programme provides that the activities of Frontex and of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) should be coordinated when it comes to the reception of migrants at the Union’s external borders, this is presently not the case. In Greece, Frontex screens migrants at the border in order to establish their nationality to facilitate their expulsion. The report notes that EASO is not present, and the European Union does not assist member States with the screening of migrants at the border in order to identify protection needs. Similarly, according to the report, in Italy, Frontex guest officers were allowed to interview migrant in detention centres without any supervision. The Rapporteur encourages all actors involved to explore the possibilities of establishing mixed teams of border management and asylum experts, provided that they are subject to effective human rights monitoring and involve UNHCR. 

The report also notes that return procedures, particularly when facilitated through readmission agreements, failed to provide the necessary safeguards.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, also spoke at the conference, highlighting the exploitative labour conditions faced by migrant workers in the EU, and agreeing with the conclusions of the Special Rapporteur regarding the need to develop more legal avenues to access the territory for unskilled and low-skilled migrants. Demand for the labour of such migrants continues, but as long as they cannot come legally, many risk perilous journeys in order to get here. Crépeau urged all actors to recognize the fact that migrants will continue arriving despite all efforts to stop them and that repression of irregular migrants drives migrants further underground, thereby empowering smuggling rings, and creating the conditions of marginalisation that foster human rights violations, such as discrimination and violence against migrants.

Both the Commissioner and the Rapporteur insisted that there needs to be an effective ‘firewall’ system in place so that migrants in an irregular situation know that they are able to access services, such as healthcare, education and police protection, without fear of their data being passed on to immigration authorities.

Both also agreed that the rhetoric surrounding migration and asylum in the EU even from mainstream politicians, is being led by extremist right-wing elements, and that there needs to be a real effort to counter this trend, for example by ceasing to use the term ‘illegal’ to describe migrants.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 31 May 2013
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