UN Experts Voice Concern Over EU Immigration Plan

UN experts voice concern over EU immigration plan

Fri 18 Jul 2008, 11:39 GMT

GENEVA (Reuters) – U.N. human rights experts voiced concern on Friday at new European Union rules on illegal immigrants, saying they were not criminals and should not detained.

In a joint statement, the 10 experts said they had written to France, which holds the EU presidency, and all 27 member governments ahead of a meeting of justice and interior ministers about the plan next Thursday.

Under rules agreed by the European Parliament last month, illegal immigrants to the 27-member bloc can be detained for up to 18 months and face a five-year re-entry ban. EU states gave their blessing to the moves in May.

“Our principal concern relates to the detention regime pending removal procedures for irregular immigrants. The Directive envisages detention periods of up to 18 months, which appear to be excessive,” the U.N. experts' statement said.

The proposed rules would allow EU member states to detain unaccompanied children, victims of human trafficking and other vulnerable people, according to the independent experts who report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“Irregular immigrants are not criminals. As a rule, they should not be subjected to detention at all,” they said.

“Member states are obliged to explore the availability of alternatives to detention and detention must only be for the shortest possible period of time.”

The European Commission estimates there are up to 8 million illegal migrants in the bloc. More than 200,000 were arrested in the first half of 2007, and fewer than 90,000 were expelled.

The rules have prompted accusations of xenophobia from outside the bloc and are the forerunner of efforts by France to launch a pan-EU fight against illegal migration, while promoting legal migration and a common EU asylum policy by 2010.

The U.N. experts urged EU states to strengthen the procedure of judicial review of the legality of detention.

“Established time limits of judicial review must stand even in 'emergency situations' when an exceptionally large number of undocumented immigrants enter the territory of a member state.”

If immigrants lodge appeals against decisions, orders for their return should be suspended pending a ruling, they said.