Two United Nations experts on the human rights of migrants called on the European Union to open regular and safe channels for migrants in order “to take over the mobility market from the smugglers.”
Geneva, 23 October, 2015.- “Attempting to seal borders and the over-emphasis on the securitisation of borders is not going to reduce irregular migration in the long run,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, and the Chair of the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Francisco Carrión Mena.
In an open letter* released today in New York, the experts expressed deep concern at the recent UN Security Council resolution allowing the EU to inspect, possibly seize and use force against boats off the coast of Libya in cases where reasonable grounds exist to suspect that such boats are being used for the smuggling of migrants from that country.
“International cooperation is certainly needed to combat organized criminal enterprises from engaging in such activities, but the Security Council resolution and EU Operation Sophia miss the mark,” they stated. “EU Operation Sophia – which allows for EU naval vessels to board, search, seize and divert vessels suspected of being used for migrant smuggling – is an example of the States’ naivety in thinking that sealing borders can work.”
“This operation cannot succeed at reducing the smuggling activities, as long as prohibition policies and practices create a lucrative market for smuggling people,” the experts noted. “What is likely to happen is that smuggling operations will simply be diverted to other borders. Smugglers will continue to skillfully adapt, as long as there is a market to exploit.”
The human rights experts cautioned that the Security Council decision is another example of States missing a key opportunity to protect the rights of migrants. “It is extremely difficult to imagine how EU member States will take action against smugglers’ vessels without putting at risk the lives of the asylum seekers and migrants on board,” they said.
“It is also not clear how such actions will not amount to ‘push-backs’ or collective expulsions, and how using force will be compatible with the EU member States’ international human rights and humanitarian law obligations which require that they respect the principle of non-refoulement and allow for proper individual assessments,” they emphasized.
“Countries can only effectively tackle smuggling if they take over the market. They must urgently provide safe regular channels for migration and places for refugee resettlement. Without a regular alternative available to reach safety and the opportunity of building a future for themselves and their children, people will continue to pay smugglers and risk their lives through dangerous journeys.”
The human rights experts called for commitment by all EU member States – and hopefully many more countries in the Global North and in the Global South – to resettle over a certain number of years a meaningful number of refugees (most probably in the millions) directly from transit countries. “EU member States would then reclaim this mobility market from the hands of the smugglers,” they noted.
“Whether considered migrants, asylum seekers or refugees, all are entitled to a protection response based on international law, in particular the human rights law, humanitarian law, and refugee law treaty framework,” the experts stated in their open letter.
“All policies and practices aimed at effectively responding to this phenomenon of increasingly mixed migration movements, as well as at addressing the situation of migrants in transit and destination countries, must be fully in line with these norms and principles established by the international community,” they added.