Respect for Immigrants’ Fundamental Rights: a Duty

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Presentation by Michael Diedring (Secretary General of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles) on the occasion of the conference on Immigration – a source of wealth and duties for Europe organised by the EESC, the Council of Europe and the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council in Brussels on 15 March 2013.

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Respect for Immigrants’ Fundamental Rights: a Duty

  1. 1. Respect for Immigrants’ Fundamental Rights: a Duty 15 March 2013Panel Contribution – Michael Diedring, ECRE Secretary GeneralLadies and Gentlemen, Members of the Council of Europe, the French Economic, Social andEnvironmental Council Conference and the European Economic and Social Committee,It is my great pleasure to join you today on behalf of the European Council on Refugees andExiles, a pan-European Alliance of refugee-assisting non-governmental organizations. Today, Iwish to focus on a particularly vulnerable group of migrants, forced from their countries bypersecution and/or armed conflict - refugees. Compared to other migrant groups, refugees areoften those most in need of specific support to enable successful integration, because of theforced nature of their migration. Yet, due to the mixed nature of arrivals to Europe, oftenidentification of protection needs and access to asylum procedures is problematic in practiceand the specific needs of refugees are not always taken into consideration in State migrationpolicies.Europe, in developing a Common European Asylum System has taken unprecedented action inaiming to achieve harmonization of asylum policy and law across 27 sovereign States. It is morethan 13 years since the Tampere Summit when Member States set out this goal of achieving acommon system in stating “The European Council reaffirms the importance the Union andMember States attach to absolute respect of the right to seek asylum…and offers…guarantees tothose who seek protection in or access to the European Union.” However, the reality is in starkcomparison to these objectives set out in Tampere in 1999. Instead, the focus is on border andmigration control as opposed to protection and respect for the fundamental rights of asylumseekers. This can be seen from the budgetary allocations for EASO and Frontex in 2012, wherebythe budget for Frontex is almost 90 Million Euros, whilst EASO has a budget of little over 10Million Euros. • By way of example, recent research published by ECRE in collaboration with Forum Refugie-Cosi on State practice surrounding the application of the Dublin II Regulation in Europe clearly shows that it is being implemented in a manner not compliant with
  2. 2. respect for fundamental rights such as family unity, access to an effective remedy and most importantly, non-refoulement.Courts, both at the national and regional level, have been forced to step in and defend thehuman rights of those asylum seekers within the Dublin system but Courts can only assist theminority of refugees who have access to legal aid a fundamental tenet of the principal of judicialprotection. Member States need to make respect for fundamental rights the central componentto their national asylum policy and practice.Another area that requires further improvement is the focus on successful integration ofrefugees into their host societies. Whilst it is widely acknowledged that the integration ofrefugees is to the benefit of all (host communities and refugees alike), the distinct climate ofxenophobia and racism in Europe has a negative impact on the integration prospects ofrefugees. More needs to be done at the national and local level to tackle this xenophobia.Respect of the fundamental rights of refugees is a fundamental component for establishingsuccessful integration. Refugees, taking into account their special needs, must be able to benefitfrom all their rights and entitlements under the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as under EUhuman rights law.Over time the European legal framework has also changed in a manner, which can help toensure that States respect the fundamental rights of refugees. For example, the fact that theEuropean Charter of Fundamental Rights, post the Lisbon Treaty is now a binding andenforceable instrument whenever States implement EU law should greatly enhance theprotection of refugee’s fundamental rights in Europe. The impact of the Charter on the judiciaryat the EU level is also already visible, as noted in the Commission report on the application of theCharter in 2011, in that, the number of CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) decisionsquoting the Charter in its reasoning rose by more than 50% in 2011 as compared to 2010.However, more steps are required at the national level to enhance the contribution the Charterof Fundamental Rights can make in defending the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. • In this regard, ECRE has recently initiated a project entitled FRAME – Promoting the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights within the legal networks active in the field of asylum and migration in Europe. The objective of this project is to promote the principles of the 2
  3. 3. Charter amongst national legal practitioners across Europe in collaboration with ELENA – our European Legal Network on Asylum via training, guidance notes and the exchange of information and experiences by lawyers across Europe.This is just one example of the role of civil society in working towards making respect forfundamental rights a reality in Europe. Monitoring of the execution of the leading judgmentsfrom the European Court of Human Rights and Court of Justice of the European Union at thenational level is also of relevance in making sure that human rights rulings result in real changesfor the better for refugees and asylum seekers. ECRE and other NGOs can contribute to this. Forexample we recently submitted a statement with the International Commission of Jurists to theCouncil of Europe Committee of Ministers on the execution by the Greek authorities of theGrand Chamber ruling of M.S.S. v Belgium & Greece.NGOs can also play an important role in being ‘the eyes and ears’ at the national levelmonitoring implementation of EU legislation and ensuring that States uphold their obligations torespect the rights of refugees and migrants. As we enter the next phase of the CommonEuropean Asylum System ECRE looks forward to working with you all in making certain thatStates respect those obligations.European governments have the power to make harmonisation work in a positive way, whichreflects the right to asylum as guaranteed under the Charter of Fundamental Rights. In order tomove towards a real common area of protection, the values of solidarity, responsibility sharingand integration must be at the core of European policies. Important developments such as theEU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights will also contribute to meeting thatgoal. In considering the title of this conference ‘Immigration – a source of wealth and duties forEurope’ we must bear in mind the important contribution migrants and refugees make to theirhost societies. Respect for fundamental rights is not only a duty but a moral obligation if we areto live up to a Europe founded on the “indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom,equality and solidarity”.11 Preamble to the Charter of Fundamental Rights 3

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