EU should see beyond border control regarding Tunisia migrants – UN expert

Makeshift living conditions for the residents of Tunisia's Choucha camp. Photo: UNHCR/F.Kayal

12 June 2012 – A United Nations independent human rights expert called today on the European Union (EU) to develop a migration mechanism currently being negotiated with Tunisia by concentrating on the respect, protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants.

“A large majority of regional migration initiatives coming from the EU continue to be focused on issues of border control, and do not consider important issues such as the facilitation of regular migration channels,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, in a news release published at the end of his first visit to the North African country.

“I encourage the European authorities to develop a more nuanced policy of migration cooperation with Tunisia, which moves beyond security issues to develop new initiatives in consultation and in real partnership with Tunisian authorities, which place at their core the respect, protection and promotion of the human rights of migrants,” he added.

Mr. Crépeau was in Tunisia from 3-8 June, as part of his year-long study of the management of the EU’s external borders, which will take him to key transit countries and entry points for the bloc.

Late last year, the EU presented a new immigration strategy that includes plans to attract more foreign workers in coming years to deal with skills shortages and make it easier for legal immigrants to enter the EU.

According to the EU’s official website, the migration mechanism – known as Mobility Partnerships – are initially being offered to the EU's immediate neighbours, as well as Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. The Partnerships offer a concrete framework for dialogue and cooperation between the EU and non-EU countries, focussed on facilitating and organizing legal migration, effective and humane measures to address irregular migration, and concrete steps towards reinforcing the development outcomes of migration.

The Special Rapporteur urged EU member states to take all necessary measures to rescue migrants in distress in the Mediterranean Sea, including rescuing ships and taking those on board to a safe port of disembarkation, and to intensify its efforts to search for the 300 Tunisians who are reported to have disappeared while crossing its waters.

Noting that there is no adequate refugee status determination procedure in Tunisia, Mr. Crépeau also drew attention to the situation of migrants there, and expressed concern that irregular border crossing remains a criminal offence in the country, contravening fundamental principles of human rights including the right to leave one’s country.

“Whilst the Tunisian authorities insist that this is not regularly applied against Tunisians, I learned of cases where it was in fact used, including against foreigners entering Tunisia irregularly, and who were subsequently imprisoned for the alleged offence,” he said. “I also met with an unaccompanied minor who had been charged with crossing the border into Tunisia illegally, and sentenced to nine days prison.”

During his six-day mission, the Special Rapporteur visited Tunis, the Port of Zarsis, the border point with Libya at Ras Jedir, places of migrant detention, including prisons and reception centres, and the Choucha Refugee camp. He met with Government, civil society and international organisations representatives, and with migrants from a range of countries residing in Tunisia.

Mr. Crépeau’s year-long project on the human rights of migrants will result in a special thematic report, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2013.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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