The violation of migrants’ rights at borders is a major and enduring fundamental rights concern in Europe. Despite the efforts of civil society organisations, international organisations and NHRIs, migrants still see their rights violated on a daily basis.
They are unlawfully detained, denied access to asylum procedures and even returned to countries where they would likely face persecution or inhuman or degrading treatment.
Monitoring the human rights of migrants at borders is a key priority for European NHRIs. When taken together, their findings – compiled in ENNHRI’s regional report from 2021 – paint a picture of trends across Europe.
However, monitoring is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a means for strengthening accountability and human rights compliance. In the next phase of its work on rights at borders, ENNHRI is shifting the focus from monitoring to accountability.
Different human rights accountability systems exist at the national level. Yet many lack independence or are ineffective. Indeed, European NHRIs have reported a climate of impunity at borders.
There is a lack of investigations into rights violations, poor cooperation by police and border authorities, inadequate access to justice for victims. Political will to recognise and address shortcomings is also in short supply.
Why NHRIs are key human rights actors at borders
The following sets European NHRIs apart from other organisations working on the human rights of migrants at borders:
- European NHRIs are independent bodies, but enjoy a special place in the state structure and access to the government. This close relationship, which includes an obligation on the government to provide them with information, means NHRIs have a unique role in promoting and protecting migrants’ rights. They submit their recommendations directly to the government, with these often put before parliament for discussion. If implemented, the recommendations can lead to the revision of legislation, policies and practices that contradict human rights standards or contribute to human rights violations at borders.
- NHRIs form a bridge between state and non-state actors on migration. They support and cooperate with civil society organisations. For example, they coordinate efforts and ensure an enabling space for NGOs working on migration. In some cases, they provide human rights training that nurtures an enhanced culture of rights at borders.
- Most ENNHRI members have the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) mandate under the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture. This means that they are designated independent bodies vested with unrestricted and unannounced access to all places of detention, including at borders and in situations of de facto detention. This allows NHRIs to fill existing data gaps related to practices and conditions of detention at the border particularly as access to border facilities is increasingly restricted for civil society organisations.