01/2009: Morten Kjaerum


Morten Kjaerum
Director of the European Union Agency
for Fundamental Rights (FRA)


‘The FRA’s priorities on asylum and migration’


Ü Eurasylum: FRA’s Management Board just approved the Agency’s Annual Work Programme for 2009 and is about to adopt a multi-year strategy for the Agency. Can you outline some of the Agency’s priorities in the field of asylum and migration in the coming years and comment on their EU policy significance?

Ü Morten Kjaerum: Last year, when the Council agreed the Agency’s multi-annual framework, it listed asylum, immigration and integration of migrants among the nine thematic areas of the FRA’s work. Some of our larger projects in the coming years will therefore deal with the Community acquis in this field. Our main priority here is to contribute to ensuring respect for fundamental rights in the Community legislation relating to asylum and migration, and in its implementation. We always have to remember that human rights are for everybody irrespective of whether the person is an asylum seeker, a regular migrant or an undocumented migrant. We all have rights as human beings. With the new Work Programme the Agency is looking to promote a fundamental rights driven approach to immigration, and we will be contributing to the development of effective mechanisms and procedures to secure the rights of migrant Roma and Traveller EU citizens regarding free movement. Finally, we will work to raise public awareness about the fundamental rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

In 2009, one of our main projects will be a legal study on “protecting, respecting and promoting the rights of irregular immigrants in voluntary and involuntary return procedures”. The debate surrounding the recently agreed “Return Directive” shows that it is imperative to ensure that any Community action in the area of asylum and migration fully conforms to fundamental rights principles. It appears urgent that the implementation of this Directive by the Member States is irreproachable from the point of view of fundamental rights, and that national authorities are encouraged to implement the Directive using best practices available in the field. The Agency will examine the existing EU legal framework and the specific legal provisions and practices of the EU Member States in order to identify weaknesses, as well as examples of good practice. This will provide useful guidance to EU Member States for adopting the highest standards of protection of fundamental rights.

A second project in this field will deal with the situation of irregular immigrants in the EU. Estimates put the increasing number of irregular immigrants in the European Union to almost 8 million, unequally distributed among Member States. Irregular immigrants are largely invisible to public authorities putting an enormous strain on civil society, health care and educational establishments and professionals, as well as on local authorities responsible for service-delivery. As a two-year project in 2009/10, the Agency will prepare a comprehensive comparative study of the fundamental rights situation of irregular immigrants focusing on the areas of health, education, housing and employment. The purpose of this project is to support the Community and its Member States in their efforts to develop coherent and effective policies to protect and promote the fundamental rights of irregular immigrants, in particular in relation to irregular migrant women and children who are especially vulnerable.

These two new projects complement a number of other activities relating to the field of migration, which we are completing in 2009. In 2008 we completed research on the theme of ethnic profiling with respect to different areas of law enforcement, immigration, customs and border control. The research was based on primary and secondary data collection on current practices and identification of any ‘good practices’. This year, we will publish a Good Practices Handbook, aimed at supporting officials, as well as others active in this field, to prevent and actively combat ethnic profiling. We will also be publishing a legal study on child trafficking, on the basis of our extensive work on the rights of the child. Finally, our largest project, the European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey (EU-MIDIS), will be released this year. In 2008 the FRA launched the first and largest EU-wide survey of its kind to collect comparable data on selected immigrant and minority groups’ experiences of discrimination in access to goods and services. The survey also examined these groups’ experiences with being stopped and searched by the police, border control, and their rights awareness. Given the current lack of comprehensive and comparable research on these themes in many Member States, the survey’s results will be able to inform policy makers about respondents’ experiences of discrimination and victimisation so that these problems can be addressed more effectively.

To download the FRA’s Work Programme for 2009, please click here.

Ü Eurasylum: Whilst FRA carries out its tasks independently, it cooperates with national and international bodies and organisations, in particular with the Council of Europe, as well as with civil society organisations. Can you provide and discuss some examples of successful cooperation with internatioinal organisations and NGOs in the field of migration and asylum, highlighting in particular FRA’s particular role and added value in any such activities?

Ü Morten Kjaerum: One of the major gaps in the European human rights architecture had so far been the fact that there was no separate body in place to advise the EU institutions on fundamental rights. More and more areas of life are regulated by Community legislation. We need to make sure that people’s fundamental rights are fully respected when this legislation is implemented. In fulfilling our mandate, the Agency wants to build on all the good human rights work done elsewhere in Europe, and in no way do we want to rival the Council of Europe, or any other international organisation and NGO. Today there are approximately 100,000 cases pending before the European Court of Human Rights. That alone shows that there is enough to do for everyone to raise the bar on human rights in Europe. With strong analysis and reliable advice, the Agency can help the EU institutions and Members States to prevent human rights violations and address key human rights challenges falling within Community competence. The Agency is centrally placed to support the networking of human rights stakeholders in the EU. There is daily contact with the EU institutions and National Liaison Officers support the link to national governments. Civil society comes together in the Agency’s Fundamental Rights Platform. Some of the leading human rights experts are members of our Scientific Committee, and many national human rights institutions sit on the Agency’s Management Board. And finally, there are regular meetings with the Council of Europe, UN and OSCE. The interaction with all these stakeholders works in three ways. It ensures that the Agency can tap into relevant networks to collect the information for its studies and reports, but it also helps to feed our findings into governmental policy discussions and civil society advocacy work. Last but not least, it helps to create strong complementarity between the work carried out by the various actors.

For example, in the field of asylum and migration, we consult closely with UNHCR, OHCHR, the Council of Europe, National Human Rights Institutions, and many others. International and national human rights civil society groups provide input through the Fundamental Rights Platform and direct working level contacts. Finally academia is linked in through the Scientific Committee and our FRALEX group, consisting of senior legal experts in each EU Member State. Thanks to this collaborative working methodology and networking, I am confident that we will be able to produce highly relevant work in the field of asylum and migration that will also help others, such as the Council of Europe and civil society, to push the agenda forward with the ultimate goal to raise the fundamental rights protection of some the most vulnerable individuals in Europe today.