Geneva - At a session organised by the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED), Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said that the European Union institutionalises the illegal practices and racist violence of Member States and developing countries to deter and return migrants and asylum seekers. The EU ignores or even rewards the perpetrators of violent pushbacks that lead to migrant deaths and enforced disappearances, asserted Euro-Med Monitor.

The organisation participated in the session, which took place at the UN headquarters in Geneva, at the invitation of the CED. The three-hour session included several speakers and experts, including Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Patrick Eba, UNHCR’s Deputy Director of the Division of International Protection; representatives of both the International Organisation for Migration and the International Committee of the Red Cross; and spokespeople from other organisations active on the ground which protect and document violations against migrants at the border.

During the CED’s first General Comment on “Enforced Disappearances in the Context of Migration”, Michela Pugliese, Migration and Asylum Researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, said that the EU’s current migration and border management policy is mainly based on inhumane expulsion and restriction tactics. “The growing disappearance of migrants on their way to Europe, under the guise of border enforcement, is in fact racialised state violence,” Pugliese said.

   Migrants do not simply “go missing”. They are subjected to enforced disappearances through a variety of tools designed to put them at risk and prevent their arrival   

She contended that migrants do not simply “go missing”, but are in fact “subjected to enforced disappearances through a variety of tools designed to put them at risk and prevent their arrival”. Pugliese explained that this is why the term “disappeared” is particularly useful—it shifts the blame for abusive migratory policies to States, rather than placing it on vulnerable individuals who have no other option than to take dangerous routes.

Pugliese condemned the EU’s continued support for countries and projects that contribute to consolidating and encouraging the grave and systematic violations practised against migrants and asylum seekers on European borders and at sea. “We believe it is unreasonable for the EU to condemn irregular means of entry when these are the only means available for accessing the asylum process and the European territory,” she affirmed.

Europe imposes restrictions against migrants under the pretext of fighting human trafficking, without actually developing legal migration channels and safe paths to migration and asylum, she said. “Linking migration to an illegality framework contextualises border deaths as a kind of foreseeable consequence and punishment,” Pugliese added, so that the thousands of people dying and disappearing at European borders due to their race do not seem like “tailored tragedies we can and must avoid”.

Pugliese noted that Europe has often rewarded countries with more funding for border management, citing Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania, which were rewarded with benefits for fully joining the Schengen area. Furthermore, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) has participated in hundreds of violent pushbacks over the past years, yet its budget and powers continue to grow alarmingly. “The EU itself persisted in providing financial and material support to border management projects in Turkey, Libya, and Niger despite their detrimental effect on migrants’ lives,” she said.

While the EU has voluntarily engaged in programming to responsibly share commitments at the global level through the UN Global Compact on Refugees, Pugliese stated, its practices on the ground contribute to the encouragement and normalisation of forced and violent pushbacks, which exacerbate the risk of enforced disappearance of migrants and asylum seekers.

Euro-Med Monitor recommended that the EU stop supporting parties that use inhumane and brutal methods to deter migrants; enhance regular and safe paths for migrants and asylum seekers in line with the objectives of the Global Compact on Migration; increase efforts aimed at combating human trafficking and other forms of exploitation; end impunity for smuggling networks; and ensure that migrants are protected and supported instead of criminalised and punished.

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor called on the European Union and Member States to make enforced disappearance, whether committed by States or armed non-state actors, a crime under national law and punishable by appropriate penalties which consider the extreme seriousness of this crime.