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Tolerance of human rights violations against refugees has reached alarming levels in Europe

Migrants aboard an overcrowded boat in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Libyan coast [© Santi Palacios]

“I am struck by the alarming level of tolerance to serious human rights violations against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants that has developed across Europe” says Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, from Lampedusa today, ahead of World Refugee Day.

“Ahead of the day on which we raise awareness of refugee rights, it is impossible not to reflect on the situation that persists in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Last week’s shipwreck off the Greek coast is yet another reminder that, despite many warnings, the lives of people at sea remain at risk in the face of insufficient rescue capacity and coordination, a lack of safe and legal routes and solidarity, and the criminalisation of NGOs trying to provide life-saving assistance. Elsewhere in Europe, pushbacks at land and sea borders, violence against refugees and migrants, denial of access to asylum, deprivation of humanitarian assistance and the harassment of refugee rights defenders, are widely documented.

Reports of human rights violations against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are now so frequent that they hardly register in the public consciousness. For their part, Council of Europe member states’ governments, rather than holding each other accountable on the basis of commonly-agreed standards, have far too often silently tolerated or openly supported the adoption of laws and policies that have progressively stripped human rights protections from people on the move. Their collective focus on deterrence and shifting responsibility to third countries has created a breeding ground for practices that routinely violate refugees’ and migrants’ rights.

It does not have to be this way. Confronted with an unprecedented number of people fleeing Russia’s war against Ukraine – with such levels of arrivals not seen at any point during the last decades – European states and their citizens showed admirable resilience and were able to act with solidarity, humanity, compassion and in line with their human rights obligations.

I pay tribute to the many individuals, civil society organisations, local authorities and others – including those I have met today in Lampedusa – who continue to do extraordinary work to protect the dignity and human rights of all refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, regardless of their background. But this commitment needs to be matched by Council of Europe member states’ governments.

Only last month, leaders of member states recommitted to the values of the Council of Europe, and to the European Convention on Human Rights in particular. This recommitment only has meaning if the rights of all, and especially those turning to Europe for its protection, are upheld. Tolerance of violations of these common values cannot be part of this.

As we mark World Refugee Day, I therefore call on Council of Europe member states to stand by their promise – not in words, but in actions.”

More information about the Commissioner’s work on human rights violations against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Europe can be found in the following resources:

  • Recommendation ‘Lives saved. Rights protected: Bridging the protection gap for refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean’ (2019)

  • Follow-up report ‘A distress call for human rights: The widening gap in migrant protection in the Mediterranean’ (2021)

  • Recommendation ‘Pushed beyond the limits: Four areas of urgent action to end human rights violations at Europe’s borders' (2022)

  • Overview of the Commissioner’s country-specific and thematic interventions on the rights of refugees and migrants


(c) 2023, The Council of Europe



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