Ensuring access to asylum is an obligation, not an option
Brussels - 15 December 2015
The protection of the European Union’s (EU) external borders must not come at the expense of refugees’ rights to protection and the broader human rights of migrants and asylum-seekers, said Amnesty International ahead of the release of the European Commission’s proposal for a new European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG).
The forthcoming proposal is expected to seek an enhanced EU role in border management by establishing a European Border and Coast Guard Agency with powers to enforce the protection of the EU’s external borders mandate for the European Union’s (EU) border agency Frontex, which to date has only had the power to “co-ordinate” the protection of borders, rather than enforce them itself. This announcement comes amidst a slew of human rights violations documented by Amnesty International at Europe’s external borders, at the hands of national authorities with little to no accountability.
“No border management system whether national or European can put up barriers to international protection. Ensuring access to asylum is an obligation, not an option.” said Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. "Whatever the final agreement on this proposal is, one thing is clear. There is a serious accountability gap for human rights violations at EU borders. Whilst the EU Border Agency is to adopt an individual complaints mechanism, both EU and national authorities need to ensure that those violating human rights and international law at Europe’s borders are promptly and effectively held to account’’ she added.
Amidst the world’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, rather than working to receive and protect a small fraction of the world’s refugees in a dignified manner, EU leaders have sought to prevent their entry into the richest political bloc in the world by deploying an ever-increasing number of border guards, as well as fencing off land borders, and enlisting neighbouring countries, such as Turkey, as gatekeepers. Such practices are exposing refugees and migrants to ill-treatment, and pushing people towards life-threatening sea journeys.
’’Any European proposals on border control mechanisms must not risk the same violations that have been witnessed at national level. Water tight safeguards and impartial accountability mechanisms will be needed against push backs, and use of violence or other abuses at the border” said Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.
Amnesty International has documented how people who attempted, for example, to cross the Greek, Bulgarian and Spanish land borders were pushed back by border authorities without access to asylum procedures or a chance to appeal their return, in direct breach of international law. Push-backs are often accompanied by violence and put people’s lives in danger. To date, no authority has been held accountable for such practices. This demonstrates the crucial need for accountability mechanisms for border control whether they be European or national.
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