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Annual Report 2021
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Migrants

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people interviewed for our report on Migration and Torture in Africa

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migrants forcibly returned by Greece

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European countries criminalizing solidarity with migrants

In 2021, Covid-19 related restrictions across the globe continued to have a disproportionate impact on the mobility of refugees and migrants, further increasing their vulnerability to torture and ill-treatment.

For instance, Greek authorities illegally and forcibly returned more than 7,000 migrants to the Mediterranean Sea, ignoring the need to submit an asylum request and in some cases subjecting them to torture. The OMCT Working Group on Migration and Torture, jointly with the Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) sent an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, inviting him to call upon Greek authorities to investigate pushbacks and allegations of torture by security forces.

Migrants are vulnerable to torture and they should be protected by all States, both in Africa and Europe.

Torture on African migration routes

The group also published a policy paper ahead of the 34th summit of the African Union in February, inviting the heads of States to consider the commission of acts of torture and ill-treatment against people on the migration routes as a priority, notably in Libya, Senegal and Niger.

After documenting persistent acts of torture against migrants, the OMCT published in December a collective research on torture and migration in Africa. The research was carried out in 10 countries including Niger, Chad, Tunisia, Kenya, Uganda, Mali, Sudan and Senegal, as well as Italy and Spain. The report, entitled The Torture Roads – The Cycle of Abuse against People on the Move in Africa, shows that torture is central and systemic at every border, checkpoint, and detention facility used by State and non-State actors against migrants during their journey. The testimonies from 250 people, including internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers and other migrants, State and civil society representatives demonstrate that there is an important protection gap in policies and practices that should be urgently addressed.

The report concludes that migrants constitute a vulnerable category to torture and that they should be protected by all States, both in Africa and Europe, including by significantly increasing the availability of safe and legal pathways to Europe, through resettlement, humanitarian admissions, the granting of asylum, family reunification, labour mobility and other appropriate schemes. To curb the torture of migrants, people smuggling and trafficking, States should ensure that all migration policies, agreements and partnerships include a credible component on human rights. The fight against torture and other ill-treatment should become a specific objective.

The Torture Roads was officially launched and discussed in Dakar with members of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, European diplomats, and journalists covering the West Africa region.

Given the need for a collective approach to address the patterns of torture documented on the migration route, member organisations of the OMCT’s SOS-Torture Network in Africa have met throughout the year to discuss the trends in their countries and to advocate for better protection of migrants. In November, the members of the working group on migration and torture briefed the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture on the protection gaps and opportunities of the international torture framework. The group also met in Senegal from 30th November to 2nd December to design a collective advocacy and campaign strategy for the protection of migrants who were victims of torture in Africa.

Criminalisation of migrants rights defenders in Europe

On the other side of the Mediterranean, policies to deter migration and seal off borders continue to prevail over the imperative to respect human rights and save lives at both the European Union and Member State level. In 2021, the OMCT published a report entitled Europe: Open Season on Solidarity, which documents increased attacks and restrictions on the work of human rights organisations and activists defending migrants’ rights in Europe.

In 24 of the 27 European Union member countries, plus Switzerland, facilitating the entry and transit of a migrant is currently a criminal offence, even if it is done without the intent to gain profit, as in the case of dangerous high mountain rescue operations. As shown in the report, compassionate citizens are not only fined, but are at times even imprisoned, for saving lives. The most affected are those who defend the rights of highly vulnerable migrants who are fleeing difficult situations in their countries, belong to ethnic minorities, or have a lower socioeconomic status.

All these administrative and criminal hurdles have a chilling effect on activists and social organisations, forcing them to rethink whether or not to continue with their activities. European institutions are failing to take decisive action and enforce measures with a human rights focus that would put the dignity and humanity of people on the move at the centre.

The report calls for European authorities and institutions to take all available measures to create a positive environment for those defending migrants’ human rights and focus on shifting the current approach to migration to one centred on human rights while removing administrative obstacles to the work of civil society. This could include the promotion of legal migratory routes, abandoning the logic of outsourcing border control, and carrying out awareness campaigns with positive messages about the migrant population that also recognise the role of civil society in defending and promoting human rights and the rule of law.

Do you know what our journey is like?

Zakaria took the perilous journey from Ivory Coast to Europe. He refers to it as a "nightmare".

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