PICUM Letter to President of the European Council, Donald Tusk

Dear President Tusk,

I am writing to you as the representative of over 140 organisations – active in preventing discrimination, exploitation and violence against undocumented migrants in more than 30 countries – who are deeply concerned with the growing gulf between human rights and rule of law, and the migration policies and practices pursued by the European Union.

We are particularly alarmed by your remarks on 7 March following the meeting with Prime Minister Davutoğlu, to “appeal to potential illegal economic migrants not to come to the EU”, and are keen to seek clarification regarding three key issues:

1. Border control, readmission agreements and fast-tracked deportations have not – and will not – end irregular migration

Documenting deaths at the EU’s external borders since 2002, our network has witnessed how increased security in one part of the border will cause migrants to seek other, more dangerous routes. The EU’s policy response – of militarising external borders and entering bilateral agreements with third countries – has entrenched the smuggling market and increased deaths. In the current negotiations with Turkey, the European Union is appearing desperate to side-step its obligations under human rights and refugee law. We are particularly concerned by the willingness to use economic enticements to negotiate practices which will prevent people from leaving the territory of Turkey and facilitate swift deportations, without seeking any assurances for the humane and dignified treatment of the people you are seeking to deter, ensuring due process, or responding to the reports of violence, arbitrary detention and other abuses.

  • How will the EU ensure human rights standards and legal safeguards – including non-discrimination, effective protection, access to justice and due process – for all migrants subject to readmission to Turkey and on Turkish territory?
  • What mechanisms are foreseen to address violations which may be undertaken by Turkey on the EU’s behalf?

2. Criminalising rhetoric, policies and practices will not end irregular migration
Migration is not a crime. The term ‘illegal’ – notably, only ever applied to migrants – is inaccurate, damaging and against Europe’s core values. Categorising migrants as “illegal” legitimises repressive law enforcement measures, and normalises violations of their dignity and rights. We would also underline the fact that the continued roll-out of measures which criminalise mobility, residence and employment of undocumented migrants-  including detention and deportation- have not halted irregularity in the EU, but have fuelled the exclusion and discrimination of undocumented men, women, and children in our communities.

The European Commission, European Parliament, EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Council of Europe, and United Nations have all recommended to use “irregular migration” instead of “illegal migration” and to refer to migrants as “irregular” or “undocumented,” not as “illegal migrants.” In the face of growing xenophobia and racist violence, we see many member states revisiting their framing and discourse  around migrants. We deeply regret that the European Council continues to use “illegal” when referring to both migration and migrants, and to be advancing with repressive measures that have been shown to be harmful and ineffective.

  • In light of the calls and recommendations by leading human rights institutions and bodies regarding the use of ‘illegal’, will the Council consider undertaking a review regarding its terminology on migration?

3. Bad policies – not ‘bad migrants’ – are the cause of irregular migration
The causes of irregular ‘migration’ are linked to the existing migration policy framework. The limited regular channels for migration for protection, work and family reunification meet neither the needs of refugees, potential migrants and their families nor key sectors of the EU’s labour market. Existing channels are inflexible, increasingly restricted and incoherent with Europe’s social policy objectives. Restrictive and inadequate procedures for recognition of protection needs has resulted in a population of people who cannot be deported yet are not provided a residence status in the EU. Permits tie migrants to a particular employer or personal relationship in such a way that they lose their status as soon as difficulties arise. The seasonal workers’ directive is the first EU instrument in 16 years of common labour migration policies that goes beyond the predominant focus on highly-skilled migrant workers, and provides regular channels for migrant workers with other skills in other sectors. However, it only provides for short-term employment, for example in agriculture and tourism, and will not resolve future demands of the economy or demographic predictions for the EU.

  • Recognising the legal and moral obligations of the EU, and the necessity of migration in meeting Europe’s future socio-economic challenges, what steps will the Council undertake to advance fair, flexible, and rights-based channels for migrants?

We would very much welcome the opportunity for future dialogue with you, as well as with the relevant bodies within the Council, to further consider how the increasing body of evidence gathered by practitioners, think tanks, human rights bodies and academics may support a coherent, rights-based, and sustainable EU migration policy response.

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