The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Prof. François Crépeau, for the past six months has been conducting “a one-year comprehensive study to examine the rights of migrants in the Euro-Mediterranean region, focusing in particular on the management of the external borders of the European Union.” The Special Rapporteur will present a thematic report on the human rights of migrants at the borders of the European Union to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2013. To date he has concluded official visits to EU offices in Brussels, Tunisia, Turkey, and Italy; a nine-day visit to Greece began on 25 November. The Special Rapporteur has issued preliminary conclusions at the end of each completed mission. One common concern is that various actions of the EU and neighbouring countries are resulting in human rights considerations being overshadowed by migration control and security objectives.
At the conclusion of the most recent mission to Italy (30 September – 8 October 2012), the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over Italy’s (and the EU’s) ongoing cooperation with Libya:
“Another matter of paramount importance are the bilateral cooperation agreements negotiated between Italy and its neighbours on the question of migration. Although the EU has negotiated a number of EU wide readmission agreements, the absence of a clear regional framework for such agreements, including a lack of minimum human rights standards, has led to the creation of a number of bilateral readmission agreements between Italy and its neighbours which often do not appear to have human rights at their core. Of particular concern is the Italy-Libya bilateral cooperation on migration. The 2008 agreement formalised cooperation to strengthen Libya`s capacity to intercept irregular migrants on Libyan territory or territorial waters, even though Libya’s record at effectively protecting the human rights of migrants was poor and reports of human rights abuses of migrants in Libya were frequent. In line with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights pronounced in the Hirsi case that such ‘push-backs’ by Italian authorities towards Libya were not acceptable, the agreement is currently suspended and the Hirsi-defined push-backs appear to have ceased. However, Italy-Libya migration cooperation was recently reinforced through a 2012 processo verbale. This new political framework however, contains very little concrete information on strengthening Libya’s normative framework and institutional capacities regarding the human rights of migrants.”
The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern that the current technical assistance in Search and Rescue capability being provided by Italy to Libya is in effect disguised migration control assistance:
“Moreover, I have learnt of increased bilateral cooperation between Italian and Libyan authorities regarding search and rescue operations, including the provision of logistical and technical support to Libyan coast guards. Whilst increased search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean is undoubtedly of paramount importance, I have observed that there appears to be a strong focus on strengthening the capacities of the Libyan authorities to intercept migrants hoping to reach Europe, on both their territory and in their territorial waters, and return them to Libya. In this context, I warn EU member states against a progressive ‘externalisation’ of border control. In particular, considering the on-going difficulties of the Libyan authorities and the reports of human rights abuses against migrants on Libyan territory, this migration cooperation with Libya should not lead to any migrant being returned to Libyan shores against their will, either by Italian coast guards or Guardia di Finanza, or by Libyan coast guards with the technical or logistical support of their Italian counterparts.”
While acknowledging the important support provided to Italy by Frontex, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over certain Frontex activities in Italy:
“[ ] I am aware that the key focus of FRONTEX remains information and intelligence gathering. In Italy FRONTEX thus works predominantly with the Guarda di Finanza and the Border Police to combat irregular migration, migrant smuggling and other migration related crimes. I remain concerned that these security objectives still appear to overshadow human rights considerations. For example, I have learned that FRONTEX officers conduct interviews with migrants in Italian detention facilities in order to gather information on their journeys. However these interviews are conducted without any external supervision. It is thus essential that effective human rights standards be integrated into all departments and agencies related to border management.”
The Special Rapporteur made the following “Preliminary Recommendations to the Italian government”:
- “Ensure that migration cooperation with Libya does not lead to any migrant being returned to Libyan shores against their will, either by Italian authorities, or by Libyan authorities with the technical or logistical support of their Italian counterparts.
- Prohibit the practice of informal automatic “push-backs” to Greece.
- Guarantee the full access by international organisations, including UNHCR and IOM, civil society organisations and lawyers to all areas where migrants are held or detained to identify protection concerns
- Develop a nation-wide regulatory framework, with respect for human rights at its core, for the organisation and management of all migrant detention centres.
- Develop a simpler and fairer appeal system for expulsion and detention orders that integrates human rights considerations at each procedural step.
- Develop a speedier identification system, including commencing the identification of foreign inmates whilst in prison, in order to make sure that detention of migrants for identification purposes is limited to the shortest time possible, with a maximum of 6 months.”
Similar concerns were expressed by the Special Rapporteur after his missions to Tunisia and Turkey:
Tunisia, 8 June 2012: “… Nevertheless, I learned that a large majority of regional migration initiatives coming from the EU continue to be focused on issues of border control, and do not consider important issues such as the facilitation of regular migration channels. Thus I encourage the European authorities to develop, in the context of the Migration and Mobility Partnership currently being negotiated, and in conjunction with bilateral agreements of the Member States of the Union, a more nuanced policy of migration cooperation with Tunisia, which moves beyond security issues to develop new initiatives in consultation and in real partnership with Tunisian authorities, which place at their core the respect, protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants….”
Turkey, 29 June 2012: “… While the EU and Turkey have developed a close cooperation on migration issues, which has led to some notable positive developments, the assistance offered to Turkey regarding migration management appears to focus largely on securitising the borders and decreasing irregular migration to the European common territory through focusing on projects related to the detention and removal of migrants in Turkey and the increased monitoring of the Turkish border. Often neglected from the equation, is an equivalent emphasis on the human rights of those most vulnerable and most affected by the migration process: the migrants themselves….”
The Special Rapporteur will likely issue preliminary observations at the conclusion of the current mission to Greece on or after 3 December.
Click here for the web site for the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.