EU borders are common borders

Policy Brief: EU Member States should be more active and stop human rights violations at EU external borders

Borders, human rights and responsibilities

Reports of violations of international human rights obligations, such as pushbacks, are numerous and ongoing. There are moral and legal boundaries for EU Member States with respect to what is happening at the external borders. EU borders are common borders and all Member States have a joint and individual responsibility to stop and prevent human rights violations making thereby use of a range of possible steps and concrete measures. This is the key message of the Dutch Advisory Council on Migration’s in this policy brief.

Human rights situation at EU external borders

Controlling and guarding the borders at the EU is a legitimate goal of EU policy. However, its operationalization should go hand-in-hand with the protection of human rights of migrants in order for it to be lawful. For a long time now, there have been major concerns with respect to the human rights situation at the EU external borders. The examples on the Aegean Sea and at the Croatian and Polish borders are well known. All EU Member States, as well as EU institutions and agencies are bound by international norms such as the right to asylum, prohibition of torture and/or inhuman treatment, the principle of non-refoulement and the right to an effective remedy. Currently these rights are insufficiently respected, or even ignored.

Allowing these practices to continue will also give rise to legal risks for individual Member States and the EU in that they may be held accountable for these ‘international wrongful act’ by or on behalf of victims of human rights violations. The effective legal protection of victims is being undermined by a lack of clarity over who is responsible for what, and when, and by the above-mentioned obstacles to access to the courts. This also undermines the rule of law in EU migration policy as a whole.

Recommendations: refrain, protect and remedy

If policy is to be implemented in a lawful way, Member States must change their attitude from ‘what can we get away with?’ to ‘what must we do?’ Clearly, Member States must refrain from becoming directly or indirectly involved in (possible) violations of human rights when implementing EU migration policy. In addition, national governments must do everything that is reasonably within their power to make sure that human rights are respected and guaranteed. Member States can also take concrete steps to ensure better access to the judiciary, effective monitoring of external border controls and functioning complaints procedures.

There is a tendency for Member States, and even EU institutions, to turn a blind eye and to shift the responsibility. In order to break this cycle political will is urgently needed.

English version of the policy brief

The policy brief EU-grenzen zijn ook onze grenzen’ is first and foremost directed towards the Dutch government and thus written primarily from a national perspective. As the subject matter is relevant in a wider EU context and the Dutch Advisory Council on Migration wants to contribute to the EU debate on the responsibility for human rights violations at EU external borders, the report was translated into English. Besides some minor changes to the original report - in order to address other EU Member States as well - the content of the English version is identical to the Dutch one.

Questions, suggestions?

Any questions or suggestions on this publication? Please contact Myrthe Wijnkoop.

Interested in other English publications of the Advisory Council