This Open Letter emerged from a session on ‘Refugee Crisis and Europe’ that took place at the 11th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law in Oslo on 12th September 2015. Those international lawyers present at the session concurred that as international lawyers we should remind European States and the European Union, and inform European publics of the international law obligations that the states and the EU owe to those seeking refuge. This letter lays out these obligations both with regard those seeking access to Europe and those that have already made the journey. It urges new approaches to ensure that those seeking refuge can do so in safety and so that Europe lives up to its international responsibilities.
The letter was open for signature for just two days, from 21st September until midnight on 22nd September 2015. Due to further demand, the letter was re-opened for signature from Thursday 24th September until midnight on Monday 28th September 2015, and now has over 900 signatories, including leading experts in international refugee law, Professors Deborah Anker (University of Harvard); Chaloka Beyani (LSE); Vincent Chetail (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies); Bhupinder Chimni (Jawaharlal Nehru University); Michelle Foster (University of Melbourne); Geoff Gilbert (University of Essex, Editor in Chief, International Journal of Refugee Law); Guy Goodwin-Gill (Emeritus Fellow, All Souls College, Emeritus Professor of International Refugee Law, University of Oxford); Elspeth Guild, (Radboud University Nijmegen); James Hathaway (Professor of Law and Director, Program in Refugee and Asylum Law, University of Michigan & Distinguished Visiting Professor of International Refugee Law, University of Amsterdam); Jane McAdam (University of New South Wales (UNSW)); Boldizsár Nagy, (Central European University & Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest); Gregor Noll (University of Lund); Thomas Spijkerboer (Professor of Migration Law, VU Amsterdam) and many others.
On 30th September, the office of the President of the European Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, responded to the Open Letter explaining that the Member of the Commission responsible for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Mr Dimitris Avramopoulos ‘is looking into the points you have raised and will respond to you rapidly.’
In summary, the Open Letter urges European states and the EU to:
– meet their obligations of international responsibility-sharing, to resettle significant numbers of refugees and provide aid to countries hosting large numbers of refugees.
– as regards those seeking protection in Europe, abandon those policies which prevent safe and legal access to protection. The UNHCR estimates over 2,860 people have died at sea trying to get to Europe this year alone. Suspending carrier sanctions and issuing humanitarian visas would largely prevent the need for those seeking refuge to make dangerous journeys.
– respect and protect the human rights of those seeking refuge once they are in Europe, including by enabling them to access asylum procedures or ensuring safe passage to countries where they wish to seek international protection.
– immediately suspend Dublin returns of asylum-seekers to their first point of entry, but ensure that its rules on family reunification are implemented fully and swiftly.
– relocate asylum-seekers and refugees in a manner that respects the dignity and agency of those relocated, and increases Europe’s capacity to offer protection.
– replace the Dublin System with one which accords with international human rights law and respects the dignity and autonomy of asylum-seekers, and supports international and intra-European responsibility-sharing.
– implement fair and swift procedures to recognize all those in need of international protection.
– while claims are being examined, afford those in need of international protection, at a minimum, the reception conditions to which they are entitled in international human rights and EU law.
– respect the right to family life, including positive obligations with regard to family unity, facilitation of swift family reunification and family tracing.
-treat all refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants with dignity and respect, respecting and protecting their human rights, irrespective of status.
Read the entire Open Letter here.