ON MIGRATION, REFUGEES AND
International migration has become a global political priority in recent years. Out of a total of almost 200 million worldwide, Europe now has 60 million international migrants, representing approximately 9% of the European population. Refugees in Europe make up 5% of this migrant population and the number of irregular migrants in Europe is estimated at between 5 and 8 million.
Migration, in particular economic migration, is driven by people’s desire to secure better living conditions for themselves and their families. There are also refugees who are fleeing persecution or have been forced to leave their homes. Europe has a long tradition of welcoming newcomers and has various policies designed to foster their integration in the country of destination. There are also 2.5 million persons in Europe who have been internally displaced as a result of protracted conflicts.
The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has a dual purpose: firstly, it develops policies for the protection of the rights of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons and the improvement of their living conditions; secondly, by proposing political solutions in keeping with the humanitarian values of the Council of Europe, it seeks to respond to member states' concerns about significant movements of migrants and refugees, the integration of migrants and population trends.
The Committee (AS/Mig) comprises 84 members and their alternates and has three sub-committees (on integration, on detention and on cooperation with non European countries of origin and transit).
Working method: In its work, the Committee deals with a wide range of topics relating to the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, humanitarian law and displaced persons. The Committee appoints parliamentary rapporteurs mandated to prepare reports based on solid in situ research and hearings with experts. This work culminates in the adoption first by the Committee and then by the Parliamentary Assembly in plenary of resolutions and recommendations addressed to member states and the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.
The Committee works in close co-operation with governmental and non-governmental international humanitarian organisations, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Amnesty International and various refugee and migration organisations. Representatives of these organisations attend committee meetings as observers, offering the benefit of their experience. At regular intervals, the Committee submits reports to the Assembly on the activities of the UNHCR, ICRC and IOM.
Within the Council of Europe, the Committee maintains close contact with the intergovernmental committees and institutions of the Council of Europe which are active within its area of competence, including the Commissioner for Human Rights, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH), the Ad hoc Committee of Experts on Roma Issues (CAHROM) and the European Committee of Social Rights. It also presents opinions to the Assembly on the activities of the Council of Europe Development Bank.
The Committee’s main activities can be grouped under the following themes:
- transversal topics
- integration of migrants
- the situation of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers
- the situation of displaced persons (IDPs)
- the rights of irregular migrants
- inter-agency relations
In 2012, the Committee has decided to work in priority around three major poles of activity, namely:
- strengthening the protection of rights of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons;
- promoting integration, dialogue, understanding and respect of migrant communities in their host societies;
- promoting solutions for protracted displacement of IDPs
The three sub-committees will focus on:
- Issues in relation to integration, building on the experience of Parliamentarians in their own countries, highlighting good practice and failed measures.
- Detention and alternatives to detention, where parliamentarians will themselves prepare a guide to visiting detention centres and also run their own training for parliamentarians on how to use their national parliamentary mandates to visit detention centres. The Sub-Committee will also consider the issue of alternatives to detention.
- Co-operation with non European countries of origin and transit, focusing in particular on issues of joint interest and concern to Partnership for Democracy countries and candidate countries as well as Observer countries.
For further details, see the Committee’s work programme and the list of reports and adopted texts.
In the spotlight: Large scale arrival on Europe’s southern shores & Lives lost in the Mediterranean sea
In the aftermath of the “Arab revolutions”, mixed migration flows have arrived, and still arrive, to Europe’s southern shores by boat.
Following a number of tragic incidents, causing the deaths of thousands of ‘boat people’, the Committee conducted an inquiry into a particularly tragic incident and issued a report.
The report finds a ‘catalogue of failures’ that led to deaths of 63 people fleeing Libyan conflict by sea. Doc. 12895 / Resolution 1872 (2012)
The Committee has also recently produced a number of reports which are highly relevant.
Work in progress:
In 2011, the Committee has constituted an ad hoc sub-committee on “Large-scale arrival of irregular migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees on Europe’s Southern shores”. The ad hoc sub-committee, which is constituted of a member of each of the 5 political groups, has paid a working visit to Lampedusa on 23/24.05.2011. It has issued a report after the visit in which it states, inter alia, that “Lampedusa reception centres are not suitable holding facilities for migrants”.
The ad hoc sub-committee also visited the Turkish-Syrian border at the end of July 2011 and issued a report after the visit.
In 2012, the ad hoc sub-committee intends to visit the Greek-Turkish border which is under high migratory pressure.
The Committee is also currently preparing a report on “The arrival of a large number of irregular migrants to Italian coastal areas as a result of tensions in the Southern Mediterranean countries”.
August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia – humanitarian consequences
The Committee has expressed grave concern about the humanitarian situation following the war between Georgia and Russia. It has already prepared two reports on this subject. Anxious to ensure that its recommendations are followed, the Assembly has instructed AS/Mig to follow closely the implementation of the Resolutions adopted on this subject. The Committee will shortly present a new report on this subject.
Work in progress: The Committee is currently preparing a report on “Missing persons from Europe’s conflicts: the long road to finding humanitarian answers”.
Integration of migrants
Integrating migrants and fostering intercultural dialogue represent major challenges for Europe. Addressing these issues is not an exact science. The numerous initiatives launched all over Europe need to be pooled in order to establish, as far as possible, good practice in this area. The Committee considers that language learning, awareness raising on citizenship-related issues, democratic participation, access to employment, education and housing, protection of rights and contact between communities are essential for integration and should be included in any strategy implemented for this purpose.
Work in progress: The Committee is currently preparing a report on “The portrayal of migrants and refugees during election campaigns” as well as on “Integration of migrants: is Europe failing?” and on “Integration tests for migrants: a step forward or back?”.
The situation of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers
For several years now the Committee has been drawing attention to the fact that migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons continue to be one of the most vulnerable sections of society and that there is a need not only to strengthen their rights but also to secure the effective exercise of these rights. The Committee is sensitive to the fact that women migrants, women asylum seekers, refugees are not in the same situation as men and pays special attention to them in its work.
Work in progress: The Committee is currently preparing a report on “The situation of Roma in Europe: movement and migration”, on “Management of mixed migration and asylum challenges beyond the European Union’s Eastern border” as well as a report entitled “Unaccompanied migrant children: what rights at 18?”.
The situation of displaced persons (IDPs)
The Committee intends to follow up its work on the regions most affected and will promote further solutions for Europe’s sub-standard IDP collective centre.
Work in progress: The Committee is currently preparing a report on “Alternatives to Europe’s sub-standard IDP collective centers”.
The rights of irregular migrants
Irregular migrants have particular problems in accessing rights and the Committee regularly reminds states of their obligations and encourages them to strengthen the protection of the rights of these persons. The Committee has noted that while this is a difficult issue to tackle, and one which is often met with silence and even hostility by certain member states, it is one that a human rights organisation like the Council of Europe cannot ignore.
Work in progress: The Committee is currently preparing a report on trafficking of migrant workers for forced labour, a report on “Effective and fair returns of irregular migrants and failed asylum seekers” as well as a report on “Frontex and human rights implications of Europe’s border security”.
The Committee regularly presents rapports on the activities of the UNHCR, ICRC and IOM.