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28th Jan 2023

UN says EU border policy harms human rights

EU border policies focus too much on security instead of human rights, a UN official has said.

"Within EU institutional and policy structures, migration and border control have been increasingly integrated into security frameworks that emphasise policing, defence and criminality over a rights-based approach," Francois Crepeau, the UN special rapporteur on human rights of migrants said on Thursday (30 May) at a panel in the European Parliament.

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  • Greek anti-migrant fence - the UN says human rights should be a bigger priority (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Crepeau has drafted a study on migration and policy concerning transit countries Tunisia and Turkey and entry countries Italy and Greece.

He said systematic detention of migrants is used as a form of border control.

He noted that EU policy, which requires fundamental rights to be respected, is flouted when member states detain migrants for unlimited periods of time.

He said that in Italy and Greece, officers from the EU border agency Frontex are allowed access to detained migrants within 48 hours of their arrival. But the same rapid access is denied to the Red Cross.

He also highlighted detentions of children.

“Detention is never in the best interest of children,” he said.

His comments on EU migration and border policy follow a political agreement between member states and the European Parliament late on Wednesday evening.

The European Commission says the deal will strengthen governance of the EU borderless Schengen zone and introduce a new EU-level mechanism to address “persistent and serious deficiencies.”

Under the agreement, a member state unable to secure its external border will be entitled to EU financial support and additional aid from Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office or the EU police agency Europol.

The commission, backed by qualified majority of member states, could propose to allow a temporary reintroduction of border controls for a limited period of time.

Member states could also shut down their own internal borders on a unilateral basis if they feel threatened by political demonstrations, high-profile political meetings, or sporting events.

They will still need to consult the commission on the closures, which will issue a non-binding opinion.

“What we are trying to do is to make sure that member states cannot close the border, claiming that there is a massive migration pressure or things like that,” the EU commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, noted.

The parliament and the commission have praised the agreement, saying it will also help save the lives of migrants who attempt the perilous sea journey across the Mediterranean.

Malmstrom said that a new structure, the European external border surveillance system (Eurosur) will help "prevent irregular border crossing, to counter cross-border crime, and very importantly to reduce the loss of life at sea."

Not all MEPs are convinced.

German Green deputy Ska Keller said the new system is designed to seal off Europe’s borders and prevent refugees from setting off from North Africa towards Europe.

“In practical terms, this means the EU is effectively shifting its borders to countries that lack an asylum system and may not even be signatories to the Geneva Convention,” she said in a written statement.

Drones and satellites imagery will be used to detect the sea-crossings, she noted.

The parliament’s civil liberties committee will vote on the Eurosur agreement on 10 June.

It is set to become operational on 2 December 2013 in member states with external borders and from 1 December 2014 everywhere else.

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