By Martin Banks - 27th March 2013
We expect migrants entering the EU to be afforded the same rights and treated with the same dignity accorded to anyone else
A new report calls for an EU-wide ban on the return of migrants to third countries if this could put them in danger of 'inhuman or degrading' treatment.
The report, by the EU's fundamental rights agency (FRA), also says policymakers should do more to increase fundamental rights protection of migrants when they arrive in the EU.
It says there have been "considerable" changes in the patterns of migration by sea over the last 10 years with arrivals rising "significantly" in 2011 following the Arab spring, before dropping again in 2012.
Speaking at the launch of the report, FRA director Morten Kjaerum, said, "The EU and its member states must ensure that border surveillance and management, while necessary, are not detrimental to the fundamental rights of migrants arriving at our shores."
He added, "There are many reasons for people to venture the journey to Europe. Some are making use of their fundamental right to seek refuge from persecution in their home countries; some are looking for a better life for themselves and their families; and some, particularly women and girls, are being trafficked against their will.
"But whatever the context of their arrival, we expect migrants entering the EU to be afforded the same rights and treated with the same dignity accorded to any other person."
The report by the Vienna-based agency presents the results of in-depth research in four member states with southern EU sea borders.
It describes the "hazardous" journey and deaths at sea, maritime surveillance mechanisms and the treatment of migrants when they arrive on shore.
FRA collected exhaustive data on the four countries to which the majority of migrant boats arrive - Spain, Italy, Greece and Malta.
Sources included border guards, fishermen, and migrants themselves. FRA lists "promising as well as bad practices" and states where policymakers "need to act" in order to increase the fundamental rights protection of migrants when they arrive in the EU.
FRA's report makes some 50 recommendations, targeted at EU and national policymakers, on ways of improving fundamental rights protection at the EU's sea borders.
It says the EU should develop "clear guidance on where to disembark" migrants who are intercepted or rescued at sea.
It says, "This guidance must include a ban on the return of migrants to third countries if this could put them in danger of inhuman or degrading treatment."
Eurosur, the EU's planned new border surveillance body, has "life-saving potential" as it is likely to be able to provide information on boats or people in grave danger and requiring immediate assistance.
"This potential must be fully utilised," it says.
The report adds, "Practical steps need to be taken by those using the Eurosur system to avoid the unintentional storing and sharing of personal data.
"An existing safeguard against the sharing of information with third countries, which could expose migrants to the risk of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, must be translated into practice."
The FRA says Frontex, the EU's border control agency, has recently taken "significant steps" towards protecting fundamental rights.
"However, there are still aspects that remain to be addressed," cautions the report.
This, for example, includes paying greater attention to fundamental rights in the pre-deployment briefings given to officers before each operation.
The report, published on Wednesday, says, "It is important to ensure that practical training for border officers fully integrates fundamental rights issues from the very beginning, particularly the knowledge that returning a person to persecution, torture or other serious harm is prohibited.
"Fundamental rights expertise should be brought in at key stages of the planning, implementation and evaluation of projects using funds that the EU provides for the management of external borders."
It cites one Tunisian fisherman interviewed for the research as saying, "Over the years, I have seen many things: I have met boats in difficulty, I have seen dead bodies in the water, I have seen desperate people crying.
"I have rescued some, while others refused to be rescued because they had lost their way - they simply asked for food and water and how to get to Lampedusa or to Pantelleria or to Sicily."