(New York, April 12, 2002)
Dear Foreign Ministers of Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Member States:
We write in anticipation of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Valencia on April 22-23, to summarize our main concerns with respect to the treatment of migrants in the Euro-Mediterranean region.
Human Rights Watch is a private, international organization that monitors human rights in over seventy countries worldwide and serves as an associate organization of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network. Human Rights Watch has undertaken a multi-year project focusing on the human rights of migrants in Western Europe. The project involves conducting research in a number of West European countries, with an eye toward influencing European Union law and policy on the human rights of migrants in the region.
In light of the events of September 11, Human Rights Watch's research and advocacy throughout the world has increasingly focused on the challenges governments face in ensuring both security and respect for human rights. We have monitored closely the impact of new anti-terrorism laws, policies and practices on human rights in general, and in Western Europe, on migrants and refugees in particular. In this regard, Human Rights Watch has published commentaries on various regional anti-terrorism initiatives-under consideration at the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In each case, we have urged member state governments to ensure that immigration management and security measures fully respect human rights, including those of migrants and asylum seekers.
In a February 13, 2002 European Commission Communication in preparation for your upcoming Euro-Mediterranean Partnership meeting, External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten set out a slate of proposals "to address issues of freedom, justice and governance, to deepen the dialogue between cultures and to extend the partnership to its social dimension." These proposals included strengthening joint commitments and concrete actions on the promotion of human rights and democracy; enhancing cooperation with respect to the protection of legal migrants; and addressing the issue of illegal immigration in the Euro-Mediterranean region.
The European Commission Communication noted that, particularly in light of the events of September 11, the political and security dialogue among partners "requires close cooperation on the cross-border dimension of issues such as the fight against organised crime, illegal migration and trafficking in human beings, the management of legal migration, [and] the treatment of migrant communities." (paragraph 3.2). The communication implicitly divided the migration issue into two parts: the treatment of legal migrants in the European Union and restricting access to the European Union for undocumented migrants, including combating the trafficking of human beings. The communication failed to recognize, however, that all migrants, regardless of their status, have fundamental human rights that are routinely violated by Euro-Mediterranean partner states. Moreover, the communication failed to acknowledge that, in accordance with the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Trafficking Protocol), supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, trafficked persons are victims of a grievous human rights violation and as such are entitled to special protections.
Human Rights Watch's migrants' rights research raises a host of issues of relevance to the Euro-Mediterranean partners regarding the promotion of human rights in the context of both regular and irregular migration. Our findings indicate that both documented and undocumented migrants in many European Union countries suffer a range of abuses at entry points; in detention; within criminal justice, administrative law, and asylum systems; and as a matter of racial or ethnic discrimination. In the Euro-Mediterranean region, our research in Spain and Greece has been particularly instructive with respect to the range and gravity of human rights violations experienced by migrants and asylum seekers attempting to gain access to Europe through these Mediterranean gateways.
We enclose for your review a set of documents that reflect our research findings thus far.
Migrants and Asylum Seekers
The report on Spain, The Other Face of the Canary Islands: Rights Violations against Migrants and Asylum Seekers (February 2002), highlights the plight of North and sub-Saharan African migrants and asylum seekers detained in appalling conditions with a minimum of respect for procedural guarantees in the Canary Islands. They are housed in gravely substandard facilities in overcrowded conditions with little or no access to regular health care, fresh air or exercise. They have inadequate access to counsel and opportunities to appeal the legality of their detention. And they are routinely denied the right to seek asylum. Aspects of their plight are mirrored in Greece, where we documented extremely substandard conditions of detention for undocumented migrants in police detention facilities in Athens. The treatment of migrants in detention is a serious human rights problem throughout Western Europe, reflecting a broader trend toward a singularly one-dimensional focus on the law enforcement aspect of migration at the expense of migrants' human rights.
Human Rights Watch has engaged the Spanish government in a constructive dialogue about how to bring its treatment of migrants into compliance with its regional and international obligations. We have urged the Spanish government to address the plight of migrants in detention not only at home, but also at the E.U. level during its current presidency and beyond. We hope that the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership can also provide a forum for progress on this serious human rights problem.
Unaccompanied Migrant Children
Violations of migrants' rights often have the most serious effect on the most vulnerable members of this population. Human Rights Watch recently completed an investigation of the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children who traveled from Morocco to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, looking into reports of abuses by Spanish police; dangerous and unsanitary conditions in Spanish residential centers; arbitrary expulsions to Morocco; and ill-treatment of expelled children by Moroccan authorities. Human Rights Watch will release a report with its findings and recommendations to both the Spanish and Moroccan governments in May 2002.
Trafficking in Human Beings
Our research in Greece highlighted the plight of another population too often neglected in the migration debate: victims of trafficking in human beings. Human Rights Watch found that migrant women trafficked to Greece for forced prostitution faced and continue to face imprisonment, a complete lack of opportunity for legal redress, and deportation. Their traffickers continue this lucrative trade with impunity, assisted by corrupt police officers and the absence of a Greek anti-trafficking law. Human Rights Watch has provided the Greek government with commentary on its 2001 immigration bill and is working to ensure that a proposed anti-trafficking bill contains human rights protections for victims and adequate accountability mechanisms for traffickers and their accomplices.
As the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership moves forward, we hope that it will also press for human rights protections for trafficking victims, accountability for traffickers, and ratification and implementation by all partners of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. We also urge partnership members to ensure that human rights protections for trafficking victims, including adequate witness protection mechanisms, are included in all regional agreements, such as E.U. council framework decisions relating to trafficking.
Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: Next Steps
African and Middle Eastern Euro-Mediterranean partners have a stake in these issues, as many of the migrants suffering rights violations in Western Europe are their nationals. European partner countries also have an interest in the human rights dimension of migration. In particular, the need for migrant labor in Western Europe is growing and the necessity of adopting immigration policies that reflect fair labor standards is pressing. For all the partnership states, an essential aspect of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership is the strengthening of democracy and respect for human rights throughout the region, reflecting their recognition that regional stability would be enhanced through a common agreement to act in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other obligations under international law, in particular those arising out of regional and international instruments to which they are party (Barcelona Declaration, November 1995). Reaping the benefit of these common commitments of course requires that all member states strive to uphold all relevant human rights standards, including the fundamental rights of migrants, regardless of their status.
Human Rights Watch hopes that this information is useful to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and will spur a dialogue among the partners and with human rights organizations, refugee and migrants' groups, and women's and children's rights groups leading to a renewed commitment to upholding the rights of migrants and asylum seekers and a program of concrete action to achieve that goal. The recommendations in our reports are targeted to national governments and regional and international intergovernmental bodies in the hope that our findings can be translated into such concrete action that ensures that migrants enjoy the rights to which they are entitled under regional and international law.
Human Rights Watch looks forward to a continuing exchange of information and dialogue on these issues as the Barcelona Process moves forward.
Europe and Central Asia Division
cc. Chris Patten, Commissioner for External Relations
Antonio Vitorino, Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs
Anna Diamantopoulou, Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs
Permanent Representatives of the Member States to the EU
Ana Palacio Vallelersundi, Chair, European Parliament Committee on Citizen's Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs
Elmar Brok, Chair, European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy
Theodorus J.J. Bouwman, Chair, European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs
Anna Karamanou, Chair, European Parliament Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities
Spain: The Other Face of the Canary Islands: Rights Violations against Migrants and Asylum Seekers (February 2002)
Greece: Recommendations Regarding the Draft Law for the "Fight against Trafficking of Human Beings and the Provision of Aid to the Victims of Crimes related to the Financial Exploitation of Sexual Life" (March 2002)
Greece: Memorandum of Concern: Trafficking of Migrant Women for Forced Prostitution into Greece (July 2001)
Greece: Urgent Concerns: Conditions of Detention for Foreigners in Greece (December 2000)