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Open Letter: "An emergency which knows no borders - Europe must lead by example and ‘leave no o

RLS is a co-signatory to this open letter to the European institutions, urging the Union and its Member States to allow individuals seeking international protection to access asylum registration despite border closures, and to ensure adequate health and sanitation provision at EU internal, external, land and sea borders. The letter is below and a PDF can be found here.

To the 27 European Member States

Copy to the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliamentand the relevant EU agencies, namely Frontex, EASO and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency

7 May 2020

An emergency which knows no borders: Europe must lead by example and ‘leave no one behind’

The past months have seen Europe and the world face unprecedented circumstances following the outbreak of the Coronavirus. This public health emergency has shown that we are all in this together - disease does not discriminate between borders, nationalities, or status and only aninclusive responsewhich ‘leavesno one behind’, will allow us to stop its spread and recover together.

Some states have moved to include all individuals without discrimination in their public health responses, paused evictions from state accommodation for asylum seekers, or have granted residence to all immigrants and asylum seekers with pending residency permits.

At the same time, however, the health crisis has mostly given rise to concerning attempts to use Covid-19 as a pretext to suspend human rights of displaced individuals. At the European Union’s external sea borders, while pushbacks continue we’ve seen the suspension of search and rescue operations and ‘closing’ of ports of arrival, and at external land borders we’ve witnessed the withholding of reception conditions and access to asylum. Similarly, at Schengen borders the practicesof illegal pushbacks and arbitrary detention continue to unfold.

As a result, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, UNHCR, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Members of the European Parliament and many others have issued clear message to European states. Governments must show solidarity and responsibility in order to safeguard all individuals’ right to life and health, echoing the plea those governments are making to their citizens, on a daily basis.

Our Call to Action

We, the undersigned academics, lawyers, medical doctors and human rights defenders, thus call on European states, with the support of international as well as European Union institutions and agencies, to uphold the rights of refugees and displaced people at Europe’s borders amid the Covid-19 crisis. These actions must equally apply to the EU’s internal and external borders, whether land or maritime frontiers.

Firstly, allow individuals seeking international protection to access asylum registration despite border closures and refrain from unlawful summary pushbacks to uphold access to asylum and the principle of non-refoulement,in line with guidance issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. More specifically:

•We urge European states along the Mediterranean and in the Aegean Sea to safeguard the right to life by ending push backs and maintaining open ports for the safe arrival and disembarkation of displaced individuals, in line with international human rights and maritime law. EU Member States must continue responding to calls of distress at sea and deploy sufficient rescue capacity while allowing NGO vessels to do the same. This is in line with a recent statement issued by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights stating that, despite current challenges, “[...] saving lives at sea and disembarking survivors in a safe port must continue”.

•At the Greek-Turkish border, and at the borders between EU Member States and neighbouring countries along the Balkan route, national authorities must put an end to the criminalisation of border crossings, ongoing violence, and arbitrary restrictions of movement putting individuals at further risks.

•At Schengen borders, EU Member States must ensure that any border measures taken to manage public health risks are non-discriminatory and proportionate, while not preventing people from seeking international protection. Moreover, we urge the EU Commission to actively monitor these borders to ensure European Union law is upheld, in line with its mandate.

Secondly, at EU internal and external land and sea borders, ensure adequate health and sanitation provisions, including access to sufficient testing and medical facilities, provision of infrastructure allowing for non-discriminatory and proportionate quarantine measures, as well as reception conditions facilitating social distancing and other preventive actions.Where this is not feasible, large-scale evacuations to adequate accommodation, such as those measures provided for individuals in overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands, must be expedited. Displaced individuals detained in makeshift and other detention facilities at EU borders should be released, using all available alternatives to detention, and provided with appropriate accommodation as well as access to health services, in line with guidelines issued by the Council of Europe and others.

The past weeks have proven that where there is political will, there are ways to protect all individuals, including the most vulnerable, to ensure a swift and durable end to the health crisis. The undersigned groups and individuals stand ready to support the above call to action in the spirit of solidarity and human rights. Together, we urge the European Union member states, with the support of EU institutions and agencies, to seize this opportunity to lead by example and tackle the Covid-19 crisis by leaving no one behind.


Dr Helen Adams, Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, Department of Geography, King’s College London

Professor Dibyesh Anand

Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries, Senior Lecturerin International Relations, King's College London


Hasan Basri BULBUL, King's College London and Lawyer Konya Bar Association in Turkey

Dr.Jim Bjork, Reader in Modern European History, King's College London

Carlo Borgomeo, President of the Foundation CON IL SUD

Anna Brambilla, Qualified Lawyer, ASGI

Nagore Calvo Mendizabal, Kings' College London

Francesca Cancellaro, Qualified Lawyer in Italy

Nicola Canestrini, Qualified Lawyer in Italy

Prof. Dr. Ilse Derluyn, Centre for the Social Study of Migration and Refugees (CESSMIR), Ghent University

Marcello di Filippo, Professor at Pisa University and Coordinator of the Observatory on European Immigration Law

Dr Jenny Driscoll Senior Lecturer in Child Studies King's College London

Annette Elder, Refugee lawyer, Elder Rahimi Solicitors

Ziad Elmarsafy, Professor of Comparative Literature, King's College London

Salvatore Fachile, Qualified Lawyer,ASGI

Didier Fassin, Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Director of Studies at EHESS and Chair of Public Health at the Collège de France

Cesare Fermi, Migration Unit Regional Director, INTERSOS

Dr Sarah Fine, Department of Philosophy, King's College London

Simona Fraudatario, Permanent Peoples' Tribunal, General Secretariat

Alessandro Gamberini, Qualified Lawyer in Italy

Dr Stuart Gordon, Programme Director International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies MSc, LSE

Jessamy Gould, Director, Treebeard Trust

François Héran, Professor at Collège de France

Taryn Higashi, Executive Director, Unbound Philanthropy

Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy Director, ILGA-Europe

Dr Aisha Hutchinson, Lecturer in Social Sciences King's College London

Dr. Machiko Kanetake, Assistant Professor, Utrecht University

Michael Kientzle, Coordinator and co-founder, Mobile Info Team

Thierry Lang, Professor of Public Health, Toulouse University

Stefano Liberti, Journalist

Naoual Mahroug, Anthropology researcher, Cerlis

Juliette Malfaisan, Qualified Lawyer, France

Maurizio Marceca, Presidentof the Italian Society of Migration Medicine (SIMM)

Marie Naass, Head of Advocacy Germany & EU, Sea Watch

Josie Naughton, CEO, Help Refugees

Dr Bríd Ní Ghráinne, Senior Researcher, Masaryk University and Institute of International Relations Prague

Dr. Salvatore F. Nicolosi. Assistant Professor and Coordinator LL.M. European Law, Utrecht University

Maria Nyman, Secretary General, Caritas Europa

Dr Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik

Sophie Pouget, Qualified Lawyer and President of Committee for Refugee Relief

Michael Privot, Director, European Network Against Racism(ENAR)

Refugee Legal Support

Refugees International

Enrica Rigo, Professor of Philosophy of Law and Coordinator of Legal Immigration Clinic at Rome TRE University

Giancarlo Santone, Doctor, Director of SAMIFO -health centre for forced migrants -Regional health structure

Aldo Schiavello, Professor of Philosophy of Law in Italy

Paula Schmid Porras, Lawyer and Associate Professor of International Law and International Relations at University of Sevilla

Giorgia Serughetti, Researcher University of Milano-Bicocca

Patrick Simon, Senior Researcher at Ined and Head of Department Integer at Institute for Migrations, Paris

Serge Slama, Professor in Public Law, University Grenoble-Alpes

Charlotte Slente, Secretary General, Danish Refugee Council (DRC)

Catherine Teitgen-Colly, Professor emeritus at Paris 1 University (Panthéon -Sorbonne)

Lorenzo Trucco, Qualified Lawyer and President of ASGI

Frances Webber, Barrister

Marta Welander, Executive Director, Refugee Rights Europe

Catherine Wihtold de Wenden, Research Director, CERI SciencesPo

Colin Yeo, barrister at Garden Court Chambers

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