francois-crepeau-REUTERSFadi-Al-AssaadGENEVA (30 October 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. François Crépeau, recently concluded an Open Letter on EU Border Management in which he criticized European leaders for ceasing to support search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean in favor of stronger control and enforcement measures and accused governments of “preying on the precariousness of the migrants and asylum seekers.”


“Migrants are human beings and just like the rest of us they too have rights. They too have the right to live and thrive,” Mr. Crépeau said. “To bank on the rise in the number of dead migrants to act as deterrence for future migrants and asylum seekers is appalling. It’s like saying, let them die because this is a good deterrence.”


According to UN estimates, more than 130,000 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, compared with 80,000 last year, and over 800 people have died in the Mediterranean so far this year. Despite good initiatives like the increase in search and rescue operations which have saved many lives, the emphasis remains on restricting the entry of migrants rather than comprehensively protecting migrant rights.


 “I have observed that, within the discourse of securitization of migration and border control, the systematic detention of irregular migrants, often for very long periods of time, has come to be viewed by many EU member states, as a legitimate tool of migration management, despite the lack of any evidence that detention serves as a deterrent.”


The Special Rapporteur noted that “sealing international borders is impossible,” and instead encouraged states to implement non-custodial alternatives to detention, which have proven to be efficient and less costly.  While States have the power to admit, to deny entry or to return migrants, they equally have an obligation to respect the human rights of migrants. Among other things, this means ensuring that States do not criminalize the act of irregular migration.


“While it may constitute an administrative offence, irregular migration is not a crime, neither against persons, nor against property, nor against State security . . . irregular migrants are not criminals per se, and should not be treated as such.”


Furthermore, criminalization is often linked to anti-migrant sentiments and inappropriate language and Europe States have an obligation to more vigorously fight racism, xenophobia and hate crimes against migrants. As the Special Rapporteur reminded States, terminology is important in this respect: migrants may be irregular or in an irregular situation, but they are never “illegal”, and all European Institutions must stop using this terminology.




Press Release:  Europe / Migrants: “Let them die, this is a good deterrence”

Country Reports:  All country reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants

Thematic Report: Detention of migrants in an irregular situation

Thematic Report:  Management of the external borders of the European Union and its impact on the human rights of migrants