To the 27 European Member States
Copy to the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the relevant EU agencies, namely Frontex, EASO and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency
May 7, 2020
An emergency which knows no borders: Europe must lead by example and ‘leave no one behind’
The past months have seen Europe and the world face unprecedented circumstances following the outbreak of the Corona virus. This public health emergency has shown that we are all in this together - disease does not discriminate between borders, nationalities, or status and only an inclusive response which ‘leaves no one behind’, will allow us to stop its spread and recover together.
Some states have moved to include all individuals without discrimination in their public health responses, paused evictions from state accommodation for asylum seekers, or have granted residence to all immigrants and asylum seekers with pending residency permits.
At the same time, however, the health crisis has mostly given rise to concerning attempts to use Covid-19 as a pretext to suspend human rights of displaced individuals. At the European Union’s external sea borders, while pushbacks continue we’ve seen the suspension of search and rescue operations and ‘closing’ of ports of arrival, and at external land borders we’ve witnessed the withholding of reception conditions and access to asylum. Similarly, at Schengen borders the practices of illegal pushbacks and arbitrary detention continue to unfold.
As a result, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, UNHCR, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Members of the European Parliament and many others have issued clear message to European states. Governments must show solidarity and responsibility in order to safeguard all individuals’ right to life and health,(1) echoing the plea those governments are making to their citizens, on a daily basis.
Our Call to Action
We, the undersigned academics, lawyers, medical doctors and human rights defenders, thus call on European states, with the support of international as well as European Union institutions and agencies, to uphold the rights of refugees and displaced people at Europe’s borders amid the Covid-19 crisis. These actions must equally apply to the EU’s internal and external borders, whether land or maritime frontiers.
Firstly, allow individuals seeking international protection to access asylum registration despite border closures and refrain from unlawful summary pushbacks to uphold access to asylum(2) and the principle of non-refoulement (3), in line with guidance issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. More specifically:
We urge European states along the Mediterranean and in the Aegean Sea to safeguard the right to life (4) by ending push backs and maintaining open ports for the safe arrival and disembarkation of displaced individuals, in line with international human rights and maritime law. EU Member States must continue responding to calls of distress at sea and deploy sufficient rescue capacity while allowing NGO vessels to do the same. This is in line with a recent statement issued by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights stating that, despite current challenges, “[…] saving lives at sea and disembarking survivors in a safe port must continue”.
At the Greek-Turkish border, and at the borders between EU Member States and neighbouring countries along the Balkan route, national authorities must put an end to the criminalisation of border crossings, ongoing violence, and arbitrary restrictions of movement putting individuals at further risks.
At Schengen borders, EU Member States must ensure that any border measures taken to manage public health risks are non-discriminatory and proportionate, while not preventing people from seeking international protection (5). Moreover, we urge the EU Commission to actively monitor these borders to ensure European Union law is upheld, in line with its mandate (6).
Secondly, at EU internal and external land and sea borders, ensure adequate health and sanitation provisions, including access to sufficient testing and medical facilities, provision of infrastructure allowing for non-discriminatory and proportionate quarantine measures, as well as reception conditions facilitating social distancing and other preventive actions. Where this is not feasible, large-scale evacuations to adequate accommodation, such as those measures provided for individuals in overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands, must be expedited. Displaced individuals detained in makeshift and other detention facilities at EU borders should be released, using all available alternatives to detention, and provided with appropriate accommodation as well as access to health services, in line with guidelines issued by the Council of Europe and others.
The past weeks have proven that where there is political will, there are ways to protect all individuals, including the most vulnerable, to ensure a swift and durable end to the health crisis.
The undersigned groups and individuals stand ready to support the above call to action in the spirit of solidarity and human rights. Together, we urge the European Union member states, with the support of EU institutions and agencies, to seize this opportunity to lead by example and tackle the Covid-19 crisis by leaving no one behind.
Dr Helen Adams, Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, Department of Geography, King’s College London
Professor Dibyesh Anand
Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, King's College London
Hasan Basri BULBUL, King's College London and Lawyer Konya Bar Association in Turkey
Pat Rubio Bertran, Program Lead, Refugee Rescue
Dr. Jim Bjork, Reader in Modern European History, King's College London
Carlo Borgomeo, President of the Foundation CON IL SUD
Anna Brambilla, Qualified Lawyer, ASGI
Nagore Calvo Mendizabal, Kings' College London
Francesca Cancellaro, Qualified Lawyer in Italy
Nicola Canestrini, Qualified Lawyer in Italy
Prof. Dr. Ilse Derluyn, Centre for the Social Study of Migration and Refugees (CESSMIR), Ghent University
Marcello di Filippo, Professor at Pisa University and Coordinator of the Observatory on European Immigration Law
Dr Jenny Driscoll Senior Lecturer in Child Studies King's College London
Annette Elder, Refugee lawyer, Elder Rahimi Solicitors
Ziad Elmarsafy, Professor of Comparative Literature, King's College London
Salvatore Fachile, Qualified Lawyer, ASGI
Didier Fassin, Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Director of Studies at EHESS and Chair of Public Health at the Collège de France
Cesare Fermi, Migration Unit Regional Director, INTERSOS
Dr Sarah Fine, Department of Philosophy, King's College London
Simona Fraudatario, Permanent Peoples' Tribunal, General Secretariat
Alessandro Gamberini, Qualified Lawyer in Italy
Eve Geddie, Head of the European Institution Office and Advocacy Director, Amnesty International
Dr Stuart Gordon, Programme Director International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies MSc, LSE
Jessamy Gould, Director, Treebeard Trust
François Héran, Professor at Collège de France
Taryn Higashi, Executive Director, Unbound Philanthropy
Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy Director, ILGA-Europe
Dr Aisha Hutchinson, Lecturer in Social Sciences King's College London
Dr. Machiko Kanetake, Assistant Professor, Utrecht University
Michael Kientzle, Coordinator and co-founder, Mobile Info Team
Thierry Lang, Professor of Public Health, Toulouse University
Stefano Liberti, Journalist
Naoual Mahroug, Anthropology researcher, Cerlis
Juliette Malfaisan, Qualified Lawyer, France
Maurizio Marceca, President of the Italian Society of Migration Medicine (SIMM)
Marie Naass, Head of Advocacy Germany & EU, Sea Watch
Josie Naughton, CEO, Help Refugees
Dr Bríd Ní Ghráinne, Senior Researcher, Masaryk University and Institute of International Relations Prague
Dr. Salvatore F. Nicolosi. Assistant Professor and Coordinator LL.M. European Law, Utrecht University
Maria Nyman, Secretary General, Caritas Europa
Dr Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik
Sophie Pouget, Qualified Lawyer and President of Committee for Refugee Relief
Michael Privot, Director, European Network Against Racism (ENAR)
Refugee Legal Support
Enrica Rigo, Professor of Philosophy of Law and Coordinator of Legal Immigration Clinic at Rome TRE University
Giancarlo Santone, Doctor, Director of SAMIFO - health centre for forced migrants - Regional health structure
Aldo Schiavello, Professor of Philosophy of Law in Italy
Paula Schmid Porras, Lawyer and Associate Professor of International Law and International Relations at University of Sevilla
Giorgia Serughetti, Researcher University of Milano-Bicocca
Patrick Simon, Senior Researcher at Ined and Head of Department Integer at Institute for Migrations, Paris
Serge Slama, Professor in Public Law, University Grenoble-Alpes
Charlotte Slente, Secretary General, Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
Catherine Teitgen-Colly, Professor emeritus at Paris 1 University (Panthéon - Sorbonne)
Lorenzo Trucco, Qualified Lawyer and President of ASGI
Frances Webber, Barrister
Marta Welander, Executive Director, Refugee Rights Europe
Catherine Wihtold de Wenden, Research Director, CERI SciencesPo
Colin Yeo, barrister at Garden Court Chambers
1 . Art. 11(3) European Social Charter
2 . Art. 18 & 19 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
3 . According to Art.2 & 3 ECHR, this principle is non-derogable.
4 . Art. 3 UDHR, Art. 2 & 3 ECHR, Art. 2 European Charter
5 . Rec. 36, Arts. 3b & 7 of the Schengen Borders Code, Reg (EU) 2016/399
6 . Art. 17(1) Treaty on the European Union