The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (‘PACE’) this week approved a Resolution Countries of transit are those that migrants and refugees travel through on their way to their destination, even when, as is often the case, they do not have a specific destination country in mind, just the push factor of leaving a homeland that has become too hostile to inhabit.
Transit countries include those within the European Union, like Hungary, which receive migrants who are passing through on their way to preferred European countries, and also to countries outside of the EU such as Libya and Turkey that are coping with large numbers of migrants and refugees fleeing to the EU.
The European Union’s migration policy influences its relations with countries of transit the result being the ‘shifting of responsibility forpreventing irregular migration through Europe onto the transit country,’ even where the transit country in question is not an EU member state. In Hungary this duty to preventing illegal migration has been enshrined in law, through the criminalisation of offering transport or shelter to migrants without visas.
Additionally, notes the PACE Resolution, ‘transit countries are also asked to accept readmission agreements extending to third-country nationals’ creating socio-economic problems and further straining the infrastructure of these countries.
PACE recommends that the EU co-operate more with countries of transit, helping to prevent human rights violations that may arise where migrants are stranded in over-burdened countries, without legal status and therefore leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.
‘The Assembly recalls that all European States are legally obliged to provide effective protection to people in need and are prohibited from sending them to countries where that protection is not guaranteed.’
Countries of concern
The Resolution highlights the dire situation in Libya where the absence of a functioning State and the disintegration of the Rule of Law has transformed Libya to a country of transit, whereas it was previously a destination. Such is the situation in Libya that efforts to prevent migrants from leaving would constitute a breach of their human rights.
Therefore the EU should provide support for peace building in Libya and create legal channels for resettlement for refugees to avoid yet more deaths on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Malta and Italy.
The Assembly also calls on the Council of Europe member States not to return asylum seekers to; Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” Serbia or Hungary as these countries are either already ‘bearing a disproportionate responsibility and/or where protection is not guaranteed on account of deficiencies in reception conditions or asylum procedures.’
It is noted that despite the ECHR ruling in Hirsi Jamaa v. Italy -where the actions of Italian authorities forcing Somalian and Eritrean refugees back to Libya from the high seas was found to be a violation of their human rights – that recent legislative amendments in Spain have aimed to legalise push-backs of migrants arriving in Ceuta and Melilla.
In brief, the Resolution seeks to persuade Member States to view migration policy ‘in a global perspective,’ to ‘ensure coherency (…) and put human rights at the centre of this dialogue,’ aiming for a ‘more holistic, rights-based and effective approach to migration policy.’