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EU: Integration Policies Should Respect Rights

EU Ministerial in Vichy Should Reject Discriminatory Rules and Confirm Right to Family Life


The European Union must ensure that measures aimed at integrating migrants also respect their human rights, Human Rights Watch said today. EU integration ministers will meet in Vichy, France, on November 3 and 4, 2008, to discuss common approaches to integration in Europe.

The integration of migrants has moved up the European political agenda in recent years, with a number of EU states introducing language and other tests as a condition for residence or citizenship. Some of the tests raise human rights concerns, notably about discriminatory application and restrictions on the right to family life.

"The whole idea of European integration is to tie migrants more closely into society, but that will only happen if they feel that their basic rights are respected,'' said Haleh Chahrokh, researcher on Western Europe for Human Rights Watch. "Vichy is an opportunity for the ministers to put rights at the center of integration policy."

The importance of integration was highlighted in the recent EU immigration and asylum pact, adopted at an EU summit meeting on October 16. The pact stresses the need to treat migrants fairly and promote their integration into society, with a particular emphasis on measures promoting language acquisition and access to employment. It also calls on the member states to combat any forms of discrimination to which migrants may be exposed. An October 2008 report from the European Commission on the family reunification directive affirmed that integration measures must respect human rights.

Giving newcomers the opportunity to acquire a basic command of the language and some idea of the society they are joining may be in their interest, as well as that of society, Human Rights Watch said. But measures that unnecessarily restrict family migration and discriminate between foreign migrants on the basis of nationality violate international human rights law. They are also likely to be counterproductive, sending a message that certain groups are not welcome or enjoy fewer rights.

EU ministers should acknowledge that human rights abuses suffered by migrants impede efforts to assist them in integrating, Human Rights Watch said. As the European Commission's report to the Vichy conference points out: "Migrants face a higher risk of poverty than the rest of the population and specific obstacles in accessing housing, health care and financial services. This situation, compounded by discrimination, is hampering their full participation in society and should soon be reversed."

Among EU states, the Netherlands has been at the forefront in developing integration tests as a condition of entry and residence. Since March 2006, the country has required family migrants from Turkey, Morocco and other "non-Western" countries to pass an integration test before they are allowed to enter. Family migrants from "western" countries are exempt from the test. The United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark and France have all adopted or are contemplating the adoption of similar restrictive measures.

A recent Human Rights Watch briefing paper, "Discrimination in the Name of Integration: Migrants' Rights Under the Integration Abroad Act," concluded that the test and related financial measures violate the Netherlands' international human rights obligations, discriminating by nationality and national origin, restricting family reunification, and undermining the right to family life and the duty to enable residents to marry and start a family. The policy is currently the subject of a government review.

"The experience of the Netherlands underscores the importance of an EU integration approach based on rights," said Chahrokh. "Integration policies based on discrimination run the risk of alienating migrants instead of promoting their integration."

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.