“The EU externalisation of border control policies has a deleterious effect on human rights, in particular the right to leave a country, which is a prerequisite to the enjoyment of other rights – most importantly, the right to seek asylum”, Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks stated this week on the launch of a new issue paper entitled ‘Right to leave a country’.
According to Muižnieks, the result of such measures is particularly evident in the Western Balkans, where countries are pressured to reduce the number of their citizens applying for asylum in the EU under the penalty of seeing all their nationals subject to mandatory visa requirements. “Not surprisingly, the authorities of some of these states are restricting the departure of individuals whom they consider at risk of applying for asylum, the vast majority of whom are Roma”, Muižnieks added.
These measures can entail ethnic profiling at border crossing points, carrier sanctions, confiscation of travel documents, readmission agreements with third countries and push-backs of migrants. For instance, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 7,000 national citizens were not allowed to leave the country, between December 2009 and the end of November 2012. The report also explains that a law was adopted in the country that permits the confiscation of passports for up to one year where the individual has been forcibly returned to the country by an EU Member State. In December 2012, a new offence was introduced into the Serbian criminal code making it harder for Serbians to seek asylum abroad.
These measures are not only hindering the right to seek and enjoy asylum but are also inconsistent with the principle of non-discrimination, since Roma are a particularly targeted and affected group by these measures. The report underlines that the fact that state officials suspect persons of specific ethnic groups of being more likely to leave their country and exercise their right to seek asylum can only reinforce concerns that persons of that ethnic group are indeed in need of international protection as their human rights are not fully protected in their own country.
The Council of Europe calls on Member States to review their border and immigration control laws, policies and practice in order to ensure that they do not constitute incentives for other states to interfere with the right to leave the country where they reside.