European NHRIs gather in Madrid to strengthen their work on the rights of migrants at the borders

Participants at the Asylum & Migration Working Group meeting, hosted at the offices of the Spanish NHRI (Defensor del Pueblo) (9-10 October 2019 - Madrid, Spain)

From 9 to 11 October, ENNHRI’s Asylum and Migration Working Group met in Madrid, where representatives of 17 National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) reaffirmed the importance of collective work on migrants’ rights. In particular, participants strengthened their knowledge on promoting and protecting migrants’ rights at the borders by sharing practices and hearing from regional actors in this field, while also stressing the importance of collaboration with civil society organisations.

As discussed at the meeting, in 2019-2020, the Working Group will focus on strengthening NHRIs’ activities to promote and protect migrants’ rights at the borders. ENNHRI will facilitate the exchange of methodologies for monitoring; this monitoring will be carried out by NHRIs in different countries who will then draw recommendations for state authorities. There will also be a collective discussion on regional recommendations, which may link to regional policy and legislative developments. Cooperation among NHRIs and with civil society organisations will be particularly encouraged.

Inputs from speakers

Over the course of three days, the Working Group strengthened its links and explored areas of cooperation with regional organisations and bodies participating in the meeting.

Lilja Gretarsdottir from the Council of Europe’s Migration Coordination Unit stressed the importance of NHRI collaboration through ENNHRI to the Council of Europe’s work on migration. She encouraged continued participation in policy discussions to ensure compliance with human rights standards, like ENNHRI’s input on the draft of the Council of Europe’s Practical Guidance on alternatives to immigration detention.

The Working Group agreed to continue its close cooperation with the Council of Europe’s Drafting Group on Migration and Human Rights (CDDH-MIG), which will be working on family-based care for unaccompanied and separated migrant children.

Estela Casajuana, a researcher from Profundo, presented an overview of discussions about how human rights monitoring could play a role in the allocation and revision of EU funding. According to her, NHRIs are well placed to provide complementary information to EU actors on the potential human rights impact (both positive and negative) that spending of EU funding may have at the national level.

Participants also addressed the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration. Andrea Kaempf from the German NHRI (German Institute for Human Rights) presented her ideas about NHRIs’ involvement in monitoring and assisting in the implementation of the Global Compact at the national level. For instance, she said that NHRIs can support state authorities to link the Global Compact with other international human rights standards, identify national and regional priorities, and ensure that the Global Compact is a useful tool for the protection of migrants’ rights.

Migrants’ rights at the borders

Participants highlighted the violation of migrants’ rights at the national borders, as well as at the external borders of the EU, as a crucial and persistent concern. Given this, the meeting was used as a platform for building NHRIs’ knowledge and exchanging methodologies when working to promote and protect migrants’ rights at the borders.

Different ways in which NHRIs conduct monitoring and advocacy in this area were discussed, including: conducting announced visits to detention centres or police stations at the borders as a National Preventative Mechanism; handling individual complaints from migrants who had their rights violated at the borders; and submitting third-party interventions to relevant cases at the national or European levels.

Opportunities for working together were also identified in four main areas:

  1. Violence at the borders and summary returns;
  2. Access to relevant procedures, such as applying for asylum when crossing borders;
  3. Conditions of detention and reception centres at borders;
  4. System for human rights accountability at borders and challenges faced by Human Rights Defenders, including NHRIs, when working on these issues.

The importance of NHRI collaboration with civil society organisations was also underlined. A visit to Pueblos Unidos, an organisation part of the Jesuit Refugee Service, provided a practical example of the work done by a civil society organisation in assisting migrants and refugees. Through an interactive discussion with volunteers, coordinators and lawyers working for the association, participants enhanced their understanding of how NHRIs can cooperate with civil society organisations in this area.

Participants also had the opportunity to exchange with and learn from other actors in the field, including: Amnesty International, Association for the Prevention of Torture, EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Jesuit Migrants Service Spain, Office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNHCR Spain.

For more information, contact Gabriel Almeida, Human Rights Officer at ENNHRI.

» Learn more about ENNHRI’s work on Asylum and Migration