Reading room > The two sides of the policy to remove irregular migrants

28 Nov 2005

This complicated title deals with a reality just as complex as that which the Member States have to confront each year: the removal of migrants who find themselves in an irregular situation in their territory.

According to Franco Frattini, European Commissioner responsible for justice and domestic affairs, "only a third” of the 650,000 decisions taken concerning removal each year in the European Union are executed: 48,000 voluntarily and 164,000 by force.

However, this quantitative approach should not mask the human aspect of the question. Very often irregular migrants are subjected to violence in the execution of the removal measures.

The European draft directive offers several guarantees on this subject. Article 1 states that the common norms and procedures dealing with the removal of foreigners in an irregular situation must be consistent "with fundamental rights". Further on in dealing with minors facing removal procedures, emphasis is laid on "the higher interest of the child in keeping with the 1989 United Nations convention on the rights of the child". In the same way, the forceful measures employed by the Member States to deal with a foreign subject who opposes his removal must be in reasonable proportion and "applied in keeping with fundamental rights and respecting the dignity of the said subject".

Even though there is reason to fear that the proposal will be revised down when it is examined by the Council and European Parliament, the guarantees that it did introduce are welcome. They should not however make us forget provisions that should already be criticised.

Specifically, the proposal calls for access to the European territory to be refused for a period of five years to the migrants who have been removed. This measure is essentially a double penalty and could lead to serious consequences with regard to respecting the principle of "non-refoulement" (no reprocessing). We are equally pre-occupied with the fact that foreigners subject to a removal measure do not receive any special treatment. On the contrary, most of them are condemned to survive without status or resources in the societies that rejected them, and, in the worst cases, to remain holed up for months in detention centres and sometimes even prisons, as is the case in Great Britain and Ireland.

The latter point in particular worries the Jesuit Refugee Service, which has been helping foreigners in detention for many years. The directive is misleading as it does not speak of "detention" but rather “temporary guardianship", a gentle formula that hides the "violence of the system", to borrow terms used by Father Eddy Jadot SJ, who visits detention centres in Belgium regularly.

Detention constitutes a traumatic experience to every foreigner subjected to it with catastrophic effects on physical and mental health. At the end of 2004, a Turk and his four children were held for 22 days at the Dungavel centre in Great Britain before being sent back to Germany, where they finally requested refugee status. This was not granted to them, but in view of the urgent need to receive psychotherapeutic supervision facing two of their children, the German authorities granted humanitarian protection to the entire family.

This is one example among others of detention’s misdeeds. A maximum six-month period of detention called for by the proposed directive appears much too long under these conditions even if it takes into account the sad European average in this area. The possibility left to the Member States in the end to hold their vulnerable prisoners is also shocking and in the case of minors leaves questions open with respect to the "higher interest of the child".

The European policy to combat irregular migration certainly has two faces-which are often contradictory.

Renaud de Villaine, officer responsible for advocacy at JRS Europe.


This article reproduced from Europe-Infos by kind permission of COMECE

Renaud de Villaine, Jesuit Refugee Service