1 December 2021
Dear Commissioner Johansson,
Today marks two years since you assumed office as the EU’s Commissioner for Home Affairs. During the Parliamentary hearing that preceded your appointment, you spoke of the need to honour “the values and legal responsibilities to those in need of protection.” You stated that “the European Union is based on values” and said you would “speak up loudly for these values.” And you stressed you would “speak up for human rights.” Two years on from that hearing, we are writing to you today to highlight just some of the countless and pervasive rights violations being committed across Europe against people seeking sanctuary here. We ask you to prioritise identifying and investigating any and all such violations, and to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that member states comply with their clear legal obligations to protect individuals seeking asylum.
Across our borders, values that define the European Union are being repeatedly undermined and the human rights of people on the move are being denied. As multiple countries pursue evermore extreme tactics to dissuade and detain people trying to reach Europe, many border regions have become de facto extraterritorial zones, where the laws of the EU apparently no longer apply.
In Greece, the countless examples of alleged abuses include the recent decision by authorities operating the C.C.A.C (Closed Controlled Access Centre) on Samos to forbid exit from the camp by any residents who do not have a valid ID card. NGOs on the ground are urgently trying to ascertain the legal justification for these restrictions, which compromise the freedom of movement of approximately half the camp’s population.
Meanwhile a new Human Rights Watch Report details alarming reports of pushbacks by the Polish authorities in the ongoing crisis at the Polish-Belarus border, including the case of a Syrian woman whose five-year-old son was pushed back in October and remains separated from her.
And in France, police continue to carry out ‘evictions’ of temporary settlements, whilst the ability of grassroots groups to deliver food, water and other essential aid is constantly hampered as the authorities introduce restrictive decrees and use huge boulders to prevent aid distributions.
These violations represent just a tiny fraction of abuses occurring frequently and repeatedly across the EU. Indeed, they should not be considered as isolated incidents but rather as part of an increasingly systemic abandonment of fundamental EU laws and values in the name of security and protecting borders.
Alarmingly, actions which are prohibited under existing EU and international law are now being seen as valid or proportionate responses to the migration crisis. In Poland, Parliament approved the de facto ‘legalization’ of pushbacks in October. In the UK context border force officers have been practicing pushback tactics in the Channel, apparently inspired by the reported activities of the Greek coastguard. Meanwhile in the Asylum Procedures Regulation proposal, the Commission itself has proposed more extensive use of border procedures at transit zones, despite such steps potentially conflicting with established human rights standards for detention.
In your latest Commission blog, you say that “irregular migration is a problem and we must manage it together.” We believe that the first ‘problem’ to be solved is how to re-establish and guarantee fundamental human rights on our borders. If the EU is, as you say, a union based on values, protecting borders cannot come at the expense of protecting fundamental human rights.
Europe Must Act