UN rights chief slams increasing migrant detention in Europe
The UN's human rights chief voiced alarm Monday at the increasing detention of migrants in Europe, including unaccompanied children, amid widespread anti-migrant rhetoric across the continent.
As Europe faces its biggest migration crisis since the aftermath of World War II, UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he had sent staff members to assess areas along the main migration routes in the central Mediterranean and Balkans.
"They have observed a worrying increase in detention of migrants in Europe, including in the hotspots, (which are) essentially vast mandatory confinement areas which have been set up in Greece and Italy," he told the opening of the UN Human Rights Council's second annual session.
"Even unaccompanied children are frequently placed in prison cells or centres ringed with barbed-wire," he said, insisting "detention is never in the best interests of the child."
Zeid urged the EU to collect data on migrant detentions by member states, warning that "the figures would, I fear, be very shocking."
More than one million people made the journey to Europe in 2015, the majority fleeing war in Syria and the Middle East, and a further 208,000 have come since January, according to UN figures.
More than 2,850 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year.
Faced with the influx, the UN rights chief warned that in many countries were showing "a strong trend that overturns international commitments, refuses basic humanity, and slams doors in the face of human beings in need."
He pointed out that EU countries so far have managed to relocate fewer than one percent of the 160,000 people they have committed to taking from overwhelmed Greece and Italy.
He urged European countries to "find a way to address the current migration crisis consistently and in a manner that respects the rights of the people concerned," and to "remove hysteria and panic from the equation."
This, he said, was particularly important in the context of a controversial deal between the European Union (EU) and Turkey in March, under which migrants not entitled to asylum are to be deported from Greece back across the Aegean.
Zeid also decried "the widespread anti-migrant rhetoric that we have heard, spanning the length and breadth of the European continent."
"This fosters a climate of divisiveness, xenophobia and even, as in Bulgaria, vigilante violence," he said.
Before they reach Europe, many migrants are meanwhile suffering horrible human rights abuses in chaos-wracked Libya, the UN rights warned.
He decried "disturbing reports of many migrants in Libya being subjected to prolonged arbitrary detention, attacks and unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, sexual violence and abduction for ransom."
UN staff visiting a migrant detention centre in the country found "dozens of people crammed into storage rooms without space to lie down."
He urged EU countries attempting to cooperate with Libya on migration and border management to only do so "in full respect for the human rights of the people involved."
© 2016 AFP