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“Human Rights and Migration”

Speech by Mr Thorbjørn Jagland,
Secretary General of the Council of Europe,

at the Leiden University,

3 November 2011

 
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Your excellencies,
Distinguished academics,
Scholars and students at Leiden University,
When I look at Europe these days I am reminded of my favourite British TV-series, “Yes Minister” where the civil servant, Sir Humphrey explains to his minister why Britain had to become a member of the European Union. As he said: “We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn't work.
 
Now that we're inside we can make a complete pig's breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it's just like old times.”
 
And when the minister calls it appalling cynicism, Sir Humphrey replies: “Yes Minister, we call it diplomacy”.
 
Dear friends,
 
Europe needs diplomacy and Europe needs clear and daring leadership to take on the worst crisis in Europe since the second World War. The crisis is economic, but its implications are much broader. They oblige us to look at some very important questions in a new light. Migration is one of these questions.
 
Let me start be reminding you of a fundamental fact – that Europe has always been a place of diversity. Europe has never been static in a cultural or demographical sense. The French historian, Jacques Le Goff, once defined Europe as a continuingly changing place, a place always in motion, never a closed circuit.
 
And this is what we must remember: that Europe is a place where nations, cultures and people meet and mix and that this constitutes our true identity. Properly managed, this diversity gives us great strength. Mismanaged it risks to weaken us greatly.
 
What is the driving force behind migration? I believe it to be the same force that is behind the Arab Spring.  The universal desire for human dignity. The quest for freedom and for life worth living.
 
In Europe we should be keen to help our neighbours. The Arab Spring can result in a friendly southern neighbourhood which shares universal values and respect fundamental human rights. At the Council of Europe we are currently co-operating with both Morocco and Tunisia in an effort to help them to establish democratic institutions.  
 
Many speak about Europe’s decline, and against the background of the present crisis, criticism is not surprising, and often well-deserved. Europe remains a factor. In spite of the current difficulties, we represent the most successful model of regional integration, innovation and solidarity.
 
We represent an attractive model of combining economic performance with social welfare and human rights. We can be proud of the balance between the individual and collective rights. The current crisis is putting this model to the test, but this is a test we cannot afford to fail.
 
European unity and integration, where the European Union has been the engine and driving force, can be attributed in many respects to the European system of human rights protection. Our common values enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. A comprehensive human rights system, which encompasses over 200 conventions, numerous monitoring mechanisms, and with the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg as the centre-piece.
 
Human rights are universal, but Europe is the only region where we have mechanisms which member states are legally committed to, and where these rights are enforced through an international Court.
 
For a discussion on migration this is especially important. A large proportion of the European Court of Human Rights' case-law concerns asylum issues.
 
The situation of the most vulnerable groups of asylum-seekers, and notably unaccompanied minors, is of key importance to our democracies and human rights standards.
 
Due to their ‘irregular’ status, these people rarely seek assistance from the authorities and often become victims of traffickers, criminals and unscrupulous employers.
 
A very telling example is the recent case of M.S.S. against Belgium and Greece. Let me therefore briefly explain the case, for those of you who are not that familiar with it.
 
This is a case which highlights the prominence of this topic in the work of the Court, and the relevance of the convention and the Court’s case-law for the member states’ asylum policies and practices.
 
This case concerned the expulsion of an asylum seeker to Greece by the Belgian authorities in application of the EU Dublin II Regulation.
 
The Court condemned both Greece and Belgium. It condemned Greece because of the applicant's detention conditions and because of the deficiencies in the asylum procedure followed in the applicant's case.
 
The Court also condemned Belgium for having exposed the applicant to risks linked to the deficiencies in the asylum procedure in Greece and of having exposed him to detention and living conditions which amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment.
 
Another important case which I would like to share with you is the Rahimi against Greece case. The Court held that the conditions in which a minor migrant from Afghanistan was held in a detention centre and subsequently released with a view to his expulsion was contrary to the Convention.
 
There are many other cases, and my intention is not to single out Greece or Belgium. But these two cases illustrate the importance of ensuring that, in spite of their status, irregular migrants are treated in a humane and dignified manner, especially when detained and deported.
 
But how do we know that the detention conditions are inhuman and degrading? We know this because we have another very important mechanism of the Council of Europe, namely the Convention on Prevention of Torture (CPT - as we like to shorten it to).
 
The CPT is a unique monitoring mechanism which enables officials to visit any prison or detention centre in Europe to identify cases of non-compliance with human rights standards. Because of this, and because of the work of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, we know that the situation in specific countries may be alarming and needs to be greatly improved.
 
Yes, these cases remind us of how much still needs to be done to achieve a common European asylum system which is fully respectful of human rights.
 
But these cases also demonstrate the unique instruments which we have to hand at the Council of Europe to address these issues and to advance our human rights standards. It is an illustration of human rights at work.  
 
And the key relationship is between the national authorities and common European institutions.
 
Dear friends,
 
The rules for managing globalisation can only be based on the fundamental principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
 
In Europe we have made these principles into legally-binding commitments, and I am convinced that this way of implementing human rights will ensure that Europe remains a global leader for decades to come.
 
But there is no place for complacency. As the stabilisation of the Euro is surely the most acute short-term challenge in Europe right now, our biggest long-term challenge is how to manage migration, not only from a legal viewpoint, but especially from a political and societal point of view.
 
So let us add some more facts: Migration has brought millions of new people to our countries. In 2010, 9.4% of the total EU population was born outside their resident country. Of these, 6.3% - that is 31.4 million – were born outside the EU. The largest absolute numbers of people born outside the EU, last year, was in Germany with 6.4 million. For the Netherlands it stands at 1.4 million people.
 
But not only the EU countries have been affected. In Russia the migrant population exceeds 13 million. In my own country – Norway - the number of immigrants in 2010 was calculated to be 11.4% of the total population. Indeed there are already a dozen European States where the population with foreign roots exceeds 10 percent of the overall number of residents.
 
At the same time the other facts are clear. Europe needs between 40 and 60 million immigrant workers by 2050. Without them there will be simply no chance of sustaining Europe’s level of prosperity and welfare.
 
And we cannot escape demography, as Europe's population is ageing.
 
In some countries the choices are very dramatic: Italy will need to raise its retirement age to 77 (seventy seven!) or admit 2.2 million immigrants annually to maintain its worker to retiree ratio.
 
No developed country in the world can do without migration. Even Japan with all its history of isolationism and cultural homogeneity had to negotiate agreements with other nations to import labour force.
 
In many ways you could say that migration has been Europe’s destiny and need, but we must also recognize that it has changed our societies.
 
In recent months, political leaders, including Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, have said - more or less explicitly - that multiculturalism in Europe has failed.
 
These leaders are not against cultural diversity, but their statements reflect that something has gone wrong; that traditional integration policies have not worked.
 
We are seeing the emergence of so-called parallel societies, which in their most extreme form have led to home-grown terrorism.
 
We are also seeing increased discrimination in Europe. Minorities like Roma, as well as Muslims, are being marginalized and stigmatized. Anti-Semitism is also on the rise in several countries.
 
Even before the current refugee crisis, xenophobic parties had been gaining popularity in many European countries. As a result of extremism – in all camps – our societies are becoming increasingly polarized. If this trend continues, it will soon present a very real and concrete danger to stability and security in Europe.
 
This is why last year I asked a group of nine experts, academics and former politicians under the leadership of Joschka Fischer to identify the threats to open societies and to put forward recommendations about how we can truly live together.
 
The conclusion of the report is very clear on two points.
 
One, that our societies are very diverse; and two, that we are not very successful in managing that diversity.
 
The report is a first attempt to establish a fundamental debate among 47 European states on how to transform diversity from a potential threat to a real benefit for our societies.
 
For me personally, the most urgent priority is to deal with the so-called parallel societies. What we need to do is to create societies in which people can interact - live together and with each other.  We have to harmonise our concept of open societies against the background of growing diversity.
 
We should remember that immigrants bring creativity and strive for success in life like everyone else. They are a source of new energy which Europe needs to embrace in order to stay competitive in the world.
 
If we want to achieve this goal, we must also allow everyone to maintain his or her identity. How many of you would want to abandon your identity should you settle down outside the Netherlands? Not many I suspect.
 
Our identity is an integral part of who we are as individuals, of our richness, of our strength. But – and I underline this – identity must never come at the expense of what holds us together as a society: our common values.
 
The economic crisis has exposed the fact that the public debates in many countries are mostly driven by emotions and not by reason. We know from history that when times are difficult, others are often blamed as the cause of our misery.
 
Already in 2007 a Euro barometer survey found that only 4 out of 10 EU citizens felt that immigrants contribute positively to their country.
Also in the Netherlands, many Dutch people do not see the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Netherlands as an enrichment, but as a threat. Reports say that as much as 61% of the population feel there are tensions between ethnic minorities and the ethnic Dutch.
 
In 2009 between 35% and 40% of people agreed that the Netherlands would be a more pleasant country if there were fewer immigrants living here.
 
The only area where the contribution of migrants is probably well appreciated, is in sports. If you play well for your national football team, your place of birth, colour or religion do not matter.
 
Of course we have to discuss how integration works or, on the contrary, does not work. Only 15% and 20% respectively of first-generation people of Turkish and Moroccan origin consider themselves Dutch. The proportion is considerably higher for the second generation.
 
This shows clear progress, but there is cause for concern: half of younger people of Turkish and Moroccan origin do not feel wholly or predominantly Dutch.
 
The emotional picture is however – that migrants take our jobs, cheat on social benefits, monopolise social housing, generate criminality and practice alien values.
 
These prejudices would not hold if there was nothing true in them.
It is for instance true that no less than 54.7% of young men of Moroccan origin in Rotterdam have had at least one brush with the law compared with 18.4% of ethnically Dutch young men. But that is only part of the problem. The real one is social exclusion.
 
Dear friends,
 
The challenge for politicians and leaders in all walks of life is to move the debate on migration from emotions to facts!
 
The Report on “living together” is a first attempt in this direction. Its main message is that if Europe wants to remain a region of peace and relative prosperity, we have no other choice than to embrace diversity, and to embrace it fully.
 
The Report underlines that the point of departure is the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights, especially individual freedoms and equality before the law.
 
From there we must start with common standards and policies concerning asylum seekers and irregular migrants. One fact is that in Europe there are more than 10 million irregular migrants without any rights whatsoever. This is inacceptable.
 
And we must recognise that identities are a voluntary matter for the individuals concerned.
 
People want to have multiple identities. European societies need to embrace diversity, and accept that one can be a “hyphenated European” – for instance a Turkish-German, a North African-Frenchwoman or an Asian-Brit – just as one can be an African- or Italian-American.
 
But this can only work if all long-term residents are accepted as citizens and if each individual, regardless of their faith, culture or ethnicity, is treated equally by the law, the authorities and their fellow citizens.
 
Like all other citizens in a democracy they should have a say in law-making, but neither religion nor culture can be accepted as an excuse for breaking it.
 
 
 
Dear friends,
 
Freedom is nothing but a chance to do better, the writer Albert Camus once wrote. Most of us want that chance.
 
The quest for freedom is the strongest force in the world. Man’s will to overcome tyranny and injustice has changed the world over and again. It has brought people together, it has encouraged innovation and it has marked our humanity.
 
Freedom by way of a democratic society has made man free and able to manage himself. It has become a life worth living.
 
Also migrants are looking for this. A life worth living. A life in dignity.
Today globalization exposes us to diversity with an unprecedented speed and scope. The increasingly-free movement of ideas, cultures and individuals is confronting our identity with different, sometimes conflicting ideas, views, habits and customs.
 
For many, a reaction is to protect our national identity. Nationalism is our refuge.
 
But I say to you that nationalism has always come from something bad and nationalism has far too often led to something bad.
 
The current crisis in Europe has unveiled a trend of re-nationalisation. It should be up to us as politicians and citizens to halt and help reverse this trend.  
 
Europe has become a place to build and to strengthen our common identity. To respect our values and to exchange ideas, cultures and criticisms which are necessary to advance together.  
 
After the Second World War, we established an alternative to nationalism. It was co-operation and social and political integration  based on our common heritage. Our common values firmly anchored in a unique institutional structure.
 
The way forward should be shaped by upholding the common European standards and enforcing the international instruments which protect them.

I'll end with a story of one of Europe's greatest statesmen, Willy Brandt, whom I met during my younger years, when I was Chairman of the Board of the Socialist International, and Willy Brandt was its President. Willy always liked to make our formal meetings as short as possible so that we could go to his regular restaurant on the hill, overlooking the Rhine and talk and have a bottle or two of wine.
 
My discussions with Willy on democracy and human rights have stayed with me as truly fundamental.
 
He was always clear about one of the most important lessons of World War II: accepting that human rights could be for some and not for all, the respect for humanity in general, and for the individual especially, began eroding, eventually opening the door to the darkest chapter in European history.
 
So I say as Willy Brandt: human rights must be for all, if not they are for none!
 
Thank you for your attention.