How to cope with refugee rights during the corona-crisis?

The Council of Europe and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights present a joint publication on Fundamental Rights of refugees and migrants at European borders. Not an easy issue right now.

Especially in times like these, the rights of the most vulnerable must be secured. Foto: Charismaniac / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0int

(CoE / FRA / red) – Yesterday, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees of the Council of Europe (CoE), together with the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), has published a note on the main fundamental rights safeguards applicable at their member states’ external borders.

The note aims at supporting EU and Council of Europe member states in their duties when taking protective measures, including to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus, and addressing questions related to public order, public health, or national security challenges.

States have a right to control the entry of non-nationals into their territory. While they have to protect their external borders and safeguard public order and public health, they also have a duty to protect people’s fundamental rights. These safeguards are stemming from EU law and CoE instruments, as they apply at the EU’s external borders, bearing in mind that relevant CoE instruments apply to all borders.

The note focuses on questions such as:

1) What duties do Member States have when protecting their external borders?
2) Which remedies should be in place in case of excessive use of force at the borders?
3) What are the rules in place when people cross borders unlawfully?
4) Can access to asylum be suspended?
5) How to respect the principle of non-refoulement ?
6) What can be done to help the most vulnerable, in particular unaccompanied children?

While recognizing the real threat to health and life that the COVID-19 virus poses, and the duty of states to ensure the public’s health, FRA is currently undertaking a rapid research exercise on the impact of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic with respect to people’s fundamental rights, covering all EU Member States – a focus report on this subject will be published in early April.

In the meantime, the Council of Europe’s European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) pointed out that protective measures must never result in ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. States should continue to guarantee access for monitoring bodies to all places of detention, including places where persons are kept in quarantine. All monitoring bodies should however take every precaution to observe the ‘do no harm’ principle. Even or especially in difficult times like now, when vulnerable people are even more vulnerable. This is the Europe most European citizens want, focusing on people and democratic principles and not just saving banks!

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