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UK academics call on UN to defend the rights of people in need of humanitarian protection

An inflatable boat filled with refugees and other migrants approaches the north coast of the Greek island of Lesbos. Turkey is visible in the background Getty Images

Ann Singleton, Senior Research Fellow at Bristol's School for Policy Studies

22 September 2016

Academics from UK universities including Bristol, Middlesex, Warwick, Loughborough, King’s College London, Queen Mary, York, and Durham have called on delegates to this week’s United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants to defend the rights of some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

The academics say action is urgently needed in three main areas:

  • upholding the right of refugees to seek asylum
  • safe and legal passage for refugees and migrants
  • an affirmation of their rights without discrimination.

While being critical of many of the policies in place in Europe, the academics praised the policy of a number of German regions to provide intensive language courses for new arrivals, and the response and solidarity of thousands of independent volunteers who offered a beacon of hope to the refugees who have survived their journeys and are trying to build their lives, despite the continuing challenges they face.

Brad Blitz, Professor of International Politics at Middlesex University, said: “There are 65 million people forcibly displaced by conflicts and violence in the world, a small fraction of which seek protection in Europe. But of the 1.6 million who have tried to reach safety in Europe since the beginning of 2015, as many as 3,207 have died attempting the crossing this year alone. This makes the Mediterranean the most deadly sea route in the world for refugees. However, if those seeking safety and asylum were afforded safe and legal passage, these deaths need not have occurred.” 

“Behind the visible catastrophe of shipwrecks and deaths in the Mediterranean is an invisible catastrophe, in which bodies are found and not enough is done to identify them and inform their families,” said Simon Robins, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York.

Simon Parker, Director of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of York, said: “Just five months since the UN Secretary General called for a Global Compact on Responsibility Sharing, the right to asylum is being systematically undermined, and the absence of safe and legal routes is contributing to rising numbers of deaths at sea as well as a number of other negative consequences. These include the encouragement of existing and the formation of new criminal networks, the impoverishment of individuals and families, and fractured journeys that lead to work and life uncertainties and precariousness for refugees across Europe. The closure of Europe’s internal borders has created stranded and vulnerable populations who present increasing health, welfare, and social care challenges for receiving countries.”

Leonie Ansems de Vries, Lecturer in International Relations at King’s College London, said: “We are seeing the erosion of fundamental rights on the part of those seeking humanitarian protection. State actors and European Union agencies have prioritised security and border control at the expense of those seeking safety in Europe. Migration management policies are infringing the rights of refugees, and we have seen evidence of systematic campaigns of police brutality and mistreatment by state officials, including coast guards and border officials.”

“Vulnerable refugees living in informal, temporary accommodation are frequently targeted by state authorities through evictions and the destructions of temporary shelters. They are also subject to racist and xenophobic violence by non-state actors, but lack the protection and legal redress that ordinary citizens enjoy. This has a disproportional impact on vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied children who are regularly subject to confinement with adults who are not family members, often in mixed sex accommodation. Children and women are especially at risk of being trafficked and sexually exploited and there is a lack of coordinated support by both state agencies and NGOs,” said Vicki Squire, reader in International Security at the University of Warwick.

Ann Singleton, from the University of Bristol’s School for Policy Studies, is speaking today at a conference on the Vulnerabilities and Protection of Migrants in Brussels, organised by the EU Institute for Security Studies and the International Committee of the Red Cross. As part of the session on ‘The Missing and the Dead’, Ann will speak about the work of the International Organization for Migration’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (IOM GMDAC) on migrant deaths and on the Mediterranean Missing Project.

Further information

The signatories to the statement are:

Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries (King’s College London)

Prof Brad Blitz (Middlesex University)

Prof Elspeth Guild (Queen Mary University of London)

Dr Elisabeth Kirtsoglou (Durham University)

Prof Eleonore Kofman (Middlesex University)

Prof Joe Painter (Durham University)

Dr Simon Parker (University of York)

Dr Maria Pisani (University of Malta)

Dr Simon Robins (University of York)

Ann Singleton (University of Bristol)

Dr Vicki Squire (University of Warwick) 

Prof Nick Vaughan-Williams (University of Warwick)

Dr Antonis Vradis (Loughborough University)

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