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EU member share responsibility for socio-economic situation people on the move in migration deals

Published: 11th May 2021 Last updated: 11th May 2021

Rich western countries that make deals with less wealthy neighboring countries to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching their borders can still be responsible for the socio-economic rights of those persons. That is what Annick Pijnenburg concludes in the PhD dissertation that she will defend on May 19th.

European countries, the United States and Australia have made deals with neighboring countries to prevent refugees and other migrants from reaching their territories. As a result, many people on the move stay in less wealthy countries such as Turkey, Libya, Nauru, Indonesia, Mexico and Guatemala, where they often have no access to adequate housing, schools, hospitals and work. However, up till now it was not quite clear who is responsible for violations of the socio-economic rights of people on the move affected by migration deals.

In her dissertation, international law researcher Annick Pijnenburg shows that sponsoring states support neighboring partner countries by providing money, boats and scanners and by training their border guards, or by rewarding them with development aid. But these measures don’t automatically improve the socio-economic circumstances of refugees and migrants.

International obligations

Under international human rights treaties partner states that host people on the move have the primary obligation to make sure they live in decent conditions. They must use their maximum available resources, including assistance from the international community, to realise the minimum core levels of the rights to an adequate standard of living, health and education.

Sponsor states, in turn, have two types of obligations. On the one hand, if it is reasonably foreseeable that migration deals will lead to violations of the socio-economic rights of people on the move, they must take reasonable measures to avoid these violations. On the other hand, they must sometimes also provide international assistance and cooperation to partner states in order to help them realize the socio-economic rights of people on the move. They can be held responsible on both accounts, and also for assisting a partner state in violating the socio-economic rights of people on the move.

When rich countries strike a migration deal, Pijnenburg states, they have to take into account the socio-economic rights of the people on the move that are affected by the deal.

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