The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has published a report on the human rights of asylum seekers and immigrants in the UK. It praises the UK’s efforts to support those who have been affected by conflict in Syria, but warns against harsh policies and statements which stigmatise people fleeing violent conflict.
First, a bit of background
The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent and impartial institution whose role is to promote awareness and respect for human rights within Council of Europe member states. The Council of Europe is a 47 member state organisation whose goal is to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is separate from, though often confused with, the 28-nation European Union. In 1946, British Prime Minister and statesman Sir Winston Churchill called for a “kind of United States of Europe”. The Council of Europe was founded in 1949. The UK is a member of the Council of Europe.
So, what’s happened?
The Commissioner for Human Rights has, on 22 March 2016, published a report on the human rights of asylum seekers and immigrants in the UK. You can read the full report here. The publication of the report follows the Commissioner’s visit to the UK in January 2016.
What does the report say?
1. The UK’s help in addressing the migration crisis is welcome…
The Commissioner appreciates the UK government’s commitment to providing international aid to Syria and neighbouring states that have been affected by the 5-year Syrian armed conflict. The Commissioner also welcomes the UK’s commitment to resettling refugees, especially through initiatives which will help unaccompanied refugee and migrant children.
2. … But more could be done
The Commissioner noted the UK’s lack of solidarity with other European countries in dealing with the migration crisis. For example, the UK decided not to participate in an emergency relocation scheme for 160,000 people in clear need of international protection. It is important, the report emphasises, to deal with the complex international migration situation efficiently and in a manner which respects human rights standards.
3. Stop using ‘alarmist’ language when talking about migrants
The Commissioner expressed concern that the dominant political debate surrounding immigration in the UK is “characterised by alarmism”, portraying migrants as a “threat to UK society”. Public discourse on migration frequently focuses on the allegedly negative effects of migrants on their host society. But expert evidence indicates that migrants have had a positive effect on public finances since 2001. The discourse is unbalanced, and often fails to mention the positive effects that migrants bring to UK society.
4. Fears for the human rights of migrants detained in the UK
Lengthy detention of migrants in the UK has been of “grave concern” to the Commissioner, especially its impact on vulnerable detainees such as pregnant women and children. It is worrying that the UK has no time limit on immigration detention under current legislation, meaning that migrants are at risk of being detained indefinitely.
You can read about the problems of indefinite immigration detention in our recent post here.
5. The UK’s policies are forcing migrant children to live separated from parents
A “drastic” immigration control measure from July 2012 required UK residents to earn £18,600 per year before tax before being allowed to bring a partner or spouse from outside the European Economic Area to live with them in the UK. The threshold increases by thousands of pounds if applicant also wishes to reunite with a dependant child. The problem is that the amounts are highly restrictive, given expert evidence indicating that around 40% of employed UK citizens earned less than the £18,600 a year threshold.
The Commissioner is very concerned about the effect of this policy on the right to family life. Evidence shows that, since 2012, the income threshold rules have adversely affected around 15,000 children, who have had to live separately from one parent as a result.
“People are not illegal”
The Commissioner urges the UK to think again about its disengagement with resettlement efforts, its restrictive domestic policies and its worrying tendency to portray asylum seekers, refugees and migrants as ‘illegal’ in public discussions. In the Commissioner’s words:
People are not illegal. Their legal status may be irregular, but that does not render them beyond humanity.