Head of the Migration Division and Secretary
to the European Committee on Migration (CDMG)
of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg)
“Regional co-operation on migration and related institutional
mechanisms promoted by the Council of Europe”
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: The Council of Europe aims to consolidate European co-operation in the field of migration, particularly as regards the situation and social integration of migrants and refugees, and community relations. Recently, it has expanded its activities to issues of irregular migration, particularly with reference to the defence of migrants’ human rights. How would you summarise the main mechanisms in place, and some recent achievements, relating to the promotion of regional cooperation, and the responses of member governments, in the field of migration, particularly in the new Member States admitted to the Council of Europe in the 1990s and early 2000s?
Ü Simon Tonelli: The European Committee on Migration is the principal body of the Council of Europe responsible for intergovernmental co-operation in the field of migration, although migration is an important cross-sectoral issue within the Organisation. Twice a year, the Committee brings together representatives from the 46 Member States and its work reflects their current responses to the major challenges with which they are confronted. In addition to this intergovernmental co-operation, there is also co-operation at the level of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. There are also the various standard-setting instruments of the Council of Europe in the migration field.
In terms of the activities of the European Committee on Migration, migrants include all migrant workers and their families, immigrants, persons of immigrant origin and members of ethnic groups who were formed through migration. The Committee is concerned, therefore, with the entire process of migration: migrants about to leave their country of origin, in transit and having arrived in their country of destination, as well as their children and descendents. The expansion of the Council of Europe during the 1990s and early 2000s has had a significant impact on the migration work of the Organisation, reflecting the major political events in central and eastern Europe, i.e: the migration patterns within these regions, the eastward expansion of the European Union earlier this year, and the continuing effects of the recent conflicts in the Western Balkans. The challenges created by these developments and migratory patterns affecting Europe as a whole have led to the production of key reports in 2000 that direct, today, much of the work of the Council of Europe in this area: firstly, the report on “Diversity and cohesion: new challenges for the integration of immigrants and minorities”, and secondly, the report on “Towards a Migration Management Strategy”. At the parliamentary and local authority levels, the fully pan-European character of the Organisation has led to numerous recommendations relating to the migration challenges that the political and economic changes have brought about, including, for example, the Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1481 (2001) on transit migration in central and eastern Europe; and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities Recommendation 147 (2004) on migration flows and social cohesion in South-eastern Europe: the role of local and regional authorities.
The work of the European Committee on Migration can be divided into three related areas. Firstly, the legal status of migrants, which relates essentially to first generation migrants – migrants with a visa, but increasingly, also, irregular migrants, in terms of both their conditions of transit and their access to minimum rights. In November this year, the Committee approved the publication of a study on the obstacles to effective access of irregular migrants to minimum social rights and decided to establish a working group to examine the possibility of drawing up guidelines for Member States in this area. Integration of migrants and relations between migrants and host populations represent the second area of the Committee’s work. This relates to first generation migrants, particularly long-term migrants. However, it is also directed at the problems of second and subsequent generations, in terms of their access to the host society, equal rights and non discrimination.
Implementation of a migration management strategy, and in particular the promotion of a North-South dialogue and co-operation on migration issues, represents the third axis of the Committee’s work. There are two important dimensions to this dialogue. The first is that it brings together countries of origin, transit and destination concerned with migratory movements both to and within the European continent. With the involvement of African and Asian countries, migration is being increasingly discussed within the framework of the Council of Europe’s work on global interdependence and solidarity. The second dimension is that it brings together the relevant partners, at all levels, in these countries: governments, parliaments, local authorities and the civil society. Here, the principal achievements relate to the organisation since 2001 of regular regional migration conferences on topics of particular concern to different regions, the most recent one having been held in September this year in Istanbul to address issues of transit migration and ways to improve the sharing, rather than the shifting, of responsibility between the different countries concerned. Another achievement has consisted of the establishment in 2003 of a Political Platform on Migration.
The Political Platform of the Council of Europe on Migration meets for one day during the meeting of the European Committee on Migration, which is held twice a year. According to its terms of reference the Political Platform should: initiate dialogue and co-operation at the highest level between government structures and ministries, parliamentary assemblies, local authorities and non governmental organisations; identify migration challenges and steer appropriate action and follow-up; and provide political guidance for the activities of the European Committee on Migration, pending the creation of the proposed Migration Agency of the Council of Europe. The next session of the Platform in April next year will be devoted to the role of migration in North-South relations and the ways in which countries of emigration can maintain links with their expatriate nationals.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: The Council of Europe also plays a major role in the establishment of the principles of the rule of law, democracy and the respect for human rights and in setting European standards, for example through the European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers. How would you assess the impact of such standards and instruments, which are mostly of a non-binding nature, on the evolution of national migration and asylum systems in the COE’s member states?
Ü Simon Tonelli: It is important to note that the two most important instruments of the Council of Europe relevant to migrants and their families are not only binding but their ratification by Member States is also compulsory in the case of the European Convention on Human Rights, and is now generally required within a specified period of time after accession to the Council of Europe in the case of the European Social Charter. The European Convention on Human Rights is not, of course, a migration instrument. However, some of its provisions, particularly on the right to respect for family life (Article 8), are often invoked, and sometimes successfully, in certain migration contexts (i.e. in cases of admission and leave to remain, expulsion, and custody issues on separation and emigration of one of the parents). The European Convention on Human rights, what is more, provides for an individual right of petition.
In addition to granting specific rights to migrant workers and their families (Articles 18 and 19), the European Social Charter guarantees access, on the basis of non discrimination, to an extensive range of social and economic rights (although this obligation on contracting States is limited to the nationals of other contracting States lawfully resident on their territory). The European Social Charter does not provide for an individual right of petition. However, the Charter’s national reporting system can lead to a recommendation from the Committee of Ministers in the case of a State’s failure to fulfil its obligations under the Charter. Moreover, the Charter’s collective complaints procedure allows certain specified organisations (for example, the international organisations of employers and trade unions) to lodge complaints, alleging non compliance, against any contracting State.
Insofar as they relate to migrants’ rights, the control mechanisms of these two instruments, therefore, ensure that Member States’ policies and practice in the migration field conform to their international obligations. There are many other Council of Europe conventions that provide important provisions for the protection and promotion of migrants’ rights, although these are generally limited to lawfully resident foreigners. These include the European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers, the European Convention on Establishment, the European Convention of Social Security and the Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level. Admittedly, the legal force of these instruments is weak because the level of ratification is low and/or because they do not provide for effective control mechanisms. However, as collective bodies of standards, these instruments provide an important reference point for the policy and practice of Member States in the field of migration, including as regards issues of integration. Steps are taken from time to time to encourage Member States to sign and ratify these instruments. In the case of the European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers, however, there is reticence among Member States to commit themselves through ratification, even if in many cases their national laws and practices are already in conformity with the provisions of the Convention.
The recommendations addressed to Member States by the Committee of Ministers are not binding on them. However, it is important to stress that, since the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is composed of the Member States’ representatives, there is a tendency among an increasing number of Member States to only vote the adoption of a recommendation when their national law and policy already conforms with its provisions. This suggests that the recommendations represent, effectively, a baseline for Member States’ practice. Perhaps it is also relevant to mention, in this context, another recommendation of the Committee of Ministers that specifically includes irregular migrants. Recommendation No. R(2000)3 on the right to the satisfaction of basic material needs of persons in situations of extreme hardship provides that this right (to food, clothing, shelter and basic medical care) should be granted to all citizens and foreigners, whatever the latter’s position under national rules on the status of foreigners.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: : What are the COE’s key medium-term policy and programme priorities in the field of migration, and how do these interact, institutionally or otherwise, with on-going efforts promoted by other agencies such as the European Commission, IOM, UNHCR, ILO and the GCIM?
Ü Simon Tonelli: The current key medium-term policy and programme priorities of the Council of Europe in the field of migration are set out in the Final Declaration adopted by the Ministers of the Council of Europe’s Member States responsible for migration affairs at their 7th conference in Helsinki in September 2002. The Final Declaration includes a Plan of Action that the Committee of Ministers instructed the European Committee on Migration to take into account when preparing its activities.
The Plan of Action includes five policy areas: regional and international co-operation; the demographic dimension of migration; integration policies; access to minimum rights; and a comprehensive migration management strategy. These five areas have formed the basis for the activities of the European Committee on Migration since 2002 and will continue to do so until at least 2007, when it is expected that the next ministerial conference will be held.
Within these five key policy areas it is worth drawing attention to several important programming priorities. Firstly, the implementation of the Council of Europe’s migration management policy; I have already described the efforts which are under way to establish a regular dialogue and partnership between countries of origin, transit and destination. The three objectives of this dialogue and partnership are to ensure orderly migration, to strengthen social cohesion and to protect and promote the rights of migrants. To this end, the Political Platform on Migration will be improved and developed. However, we also wish to improve the operational capacity of the Organisation to implement the migration management strategy, particularly in the areas of integration of migrants in the countries of destination, and co-operation with countries of transit and origin. For this purpose, proposals are currently under consideration for the possible establishment of a Migration Agency.
Secondly, the human rights issues relating to the vulnerability and exploitation of irregular or undocumented migrants will influence many of the programming choices of the European Committee on Migration. In addition to activities in this area which I have already mentioned, the next regional migration conference will be devoted to the situation of unaccompanied minors and, in particular, to ways of providing these children with the means to grow up in an environment of equal opportunities and respect. This conference will take place in September 2005, provisionally in Budapest.
Thirdly, integration and the promotion of harmonious community relations will continue to be a major area of work for the European Committee on Migration. In addition to policy development, attention is being focused on the provision of practical assistance and training to both policy-makers and service providers, particularly in the areas of social and economic integration. New policy work on integration policies will focus on the children of migrants; access to employment and economic opportunities, with special emphasis on the different problems facing first generation migrants (particularly women and teenagers about to enter the labour market) and second and third generations; urban policy; and the evaluation and monitoring of integration.
Finally, priority will be given to the involvement of parliamentarians, local and regional authorities and NGOs in the intergovernmental work of the Council of Europe in the field of migration. While this priority will apply to several policy areas, it will be especially important in the case of activities relating to the North-South dialogue and partnership. Similarly, with a view to drawing on, and sharing the experience of other international institutions and organisations in meeting what are clearly common challenges in the migration field, close co-operation will continue to be sought with the European Commission, UNHCR, ILO and IOM, as well as with the OECD, UNESCO, the OSCE and international non-governmental organisations representing the social partners and the Churches. In terms of the UN Global Commission on Migration, the proposed Migration Agency could provide the European regional link with the UN and integrate the management of migration in Europe into wider co-operation efforts deployed at a global level.