It’s time to take action to protect stateless persons from arbitrary detention

François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
/ 3 mins read

The immigration detention of stateless persons is one of the silent tragedies of our globalised world that plays out behind closed doors, away from the gaze of the media, but with significant, irreparable human cost. It is a tragedy that is completely preventable, but due to a lack of will and attention, continues to harm thousands of lives all around the world every year.

During the time I have served as UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, I have witnessed first-hand the deep human impact of immigration detention, particularly when carried out for unreasonably long periods and where there is no real prospect of removal. Grown men and women separated from their families and communities; left to languish with no hope of release or return; in conditions akin to those in prisons for the criminally convicted. Despite growing global consensus to the contrary, all too often, children too are subject to immigration detention that deeply scars them and robs them of their childhood. Immigration detention of this nature is a blight on our common humanity. It is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It is telling people that they are not welcome, and that they will be punished until they find a way to return, even if return is impossible. Significantly, such detention does not work. It is expensive, it does not enhance the likelihood of removal – and so is not effective, and it is often in violation of international law.

A more humane approach that assesses each case; that takes into consideration the unique situation of the individual and their vulnerabilities, including the question of whether they are stateless or at risk of statelessness; that scrutinises the decision to detain against the minimum standards of international human rights law; that always first explores alternatives to detention and only resorts to detention at the last; and that treats those who cannot be removed with dignity, providing them with stay rights; is likely to also be a more effective, cost-efficient and lawful approach. Through my work, I have been promoting such an approach which is consistent with international law. In my 2012 report to the UN Human Rights Council, I recommended that states apply “stateless status determination procedures to stateless migrants, and provide persons recognized as being stateless with a lawful immigration status.”

This is the approach that this toolkit promotes, challenges us to pursue and empowers us to implement. This empowerment comes in the form of the many rich international and regional resources that this toolkit introduces the reader to in an easy to follow manner. These resources make this toolkit – targeted at European practitioners working on statelessness and detention – also relevant and useful to practitioners in other parts of the world, and working on behalf of non-stateless detainees. Any practitioner, be they a state authority responsible for taking decisions to remove and detain, a lawyer challenging the lawfulness of such detention or an NGO activist advocating for law and policy reform, will find in this toolkit a rich resource, that will guide them as they carry out their day-to-day duties. I hope it is widely read and used, and has the dual practical impact of inspiring law and policy reform and protecting vulnerable people from arbitrary, unlawful detention.

On 30 November 2015 the European Network on Statelessness published the toolkit “Protecting stateless persons from arbitrary detention in the Netherlands”. The full report is available in English and can be found here [pdf].

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