Detention of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants under Corona lockdown risks becoming arbitrary

By Prof Elspeth Guild, Queen Mary University of London and Kathryn Allinson, Research Assistant, Queen Mary University of London and Teaching Associate, University of Bristol.

As the Covid-19 pandemic has tightened its grip on many western states, many refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continue to be detained in reception and detention centres, without any prospect of release. With asylum processing at a standstill and returns to countries of origin on hold, detention of these individuals risks becoming arbitrary, if not inhumane.

“Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence”, states article 12(1) of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The liberty of movement is a human right – a right that has been severely curtailed since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In order to reduce disease dissemination, states worldwide have put in place severe travel and movement restrictions, affecting both internal and external travelling. Article 12(1) is a qualified right and so exceptions can be made in the context of public health necessity. These restrictions have resulted in lockdowns in countries around the world, confining people to their homes with only specific exceptions permitted. (more…)

As the Corona pandemic worsens, EU borders shut down: “A new low point for the EU’s respect for refugee rights and international law”

By Prof Elspeth Guild, Queen Mary University of London and Kathryn Allinson, Research Assistant, Queen Mary University of London and Teaching Associate, University of Bristol.

On 3 March 2020, the heads of the key EU law-making institutions met at the Greek-Turkish border to support the efforts of the Greek border guards in pushing back and refusing crossing to a number of people (apparently not Turkish or Syrian nationals) seeking to flee Turkey and enter the EU. On 4 and 6 March respectively, the EU Councils for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, made statements applauding the action of the four heads of EU institutions in support of Greek border guards stating “The EU and its Member States remain determined effectively to protect the EU’s external borders. Illegal crossings will not be tolerated.”

The problem in international law with the actions of the Greek border guards, and their encouragement by the four heads of the EU institutions, is that they are not consistent with the obligations of the Member States and the EU (as stated in Article 78(1) Treaty on the Function of the European Union). This provision states that the EU is committed to respecting the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and the 1967 Protocol. Article 33 of that Convention provides that ‘no one shall be sent back to a state where he or she is at risk of persecution.’ This principle of non-refoulment is thus protected in international refugee law but is also a non-derogable obligation under international human rights law and considered to have customary law status. (more…)