[ 07. Jun 2008 ]

Stop the European return directive now!

On the 18th of June 2008, a proposal for a directive concerning the detention and deportation of immigrants will be submitted to the European Parliament. Call to sign an appeal against the "outrageous directive" and for an european-wide mobilization day against the return directive on 14th of June 2008.


Since 1990, the policies of European governments with respect to immigration and asylum have resulted in a continuous reduction of the guarantees and fundamental protections of the people they affect. Europe is becoming a locked-down fortress and uses disproportionate means to prevent access to its territory and to deport unauthorised migrants.

The project before the European Parliament, if it were to be adopted, would represent yet another regression. In foreseeing detention that could be extended up to 18 months for people whose only offence is to want to live in Europe, it holds to an inhuman logic:

generalizing a policy of confinement for aliens could become the normal way of treating migrant populations.

In establishing a five-year ban from Europe for all people who are expelled, this project stigmatises the illegal immigrants and transforms them into delinquents who must be deported.

The proposed directive which will be presented to the Parliament is the first in this domain to be submitted to a procedure of co-decision with the Council of Ministers. The Parliament therefore has the possibility to once and for all put an end to this policy which goes against the human values at the heart of the European project and which give it its meaning.

Today, the Members of the European Parliament have an historical responsibility: act as to not let Europe fall back to the dark era of segregation between nationals and undesirables through the systematisation of detention camps and forced repatriation.

The current draft of the Return Directive, as recently amended and adopted by the representatives of Member States on May 22d, is still more alarming than the amended version of the European Parliament from last September. The hardening of the text which includes:

  • Detention of migrants up to 18 months, for the mere fact of having crossed borders and want to live in Europe;
  • Detention and deportation of vulnerable people (pregnant women, the elderly people, victims of torture ...) and unaccompanied minors.
  • The latest version of the text allows the detention and forced expulsion of unaccompanied minors to a third country (other than their country of origin) where they have neither any family nor legal tutor.
  • The removal of migrants to countries where they have only been in transit without having any personal or family links with such countries.

We call on the Members of the European Parliament to assume their responsibility and reject this project.

Sign the appeal at!

In addition the 14th of June 2008 has been designated as the Europe-wide mobilization day against the return directive.

Background information

Since the end of the year 2002, within the framework of its programmes to fight "illegal immigration", the European Union has issued proposals with a view to harmonising European laws on the removal and detention of people with a status as illegal immigrants. A Green Paper (April 2002), followed by a Commission Communication and a Council Action Plan on Returns (November 2002), provided for restrictive norms and common operational measures. The Union initially focussed on this second aspect: the Decision on EU charter flights (April 2004), the negotiation of readmission agreements (ongoing since 2000), the Directive on sharing the financial burden of removals, etc..

On 1 September 2005, the European Commission presented a :: Proposal for a Directive on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals (pdf). The text submitted by the Commission aims to harmonise legislation on the detention and expulsion of "illegally staying" immigrants at a European level. It does not seek to protect people, but rather, to improve the effectiveness of expulsion. The idea is to furnish it, in concrete terms for its implementation, with a Fund for returns that is currently under discussion before the European Parliament.

The European Commission then sent its Proposal to the Council and the European Parliament, the two institutions responsible for reviewing its contents and its subsequent adoption, using the co-decision procedure in this field for the first time. This means that, unlike for previous directives, the Parliament's opinion is a binding opinion carrying the same weight as that of the Council.
The Directive is therefore currently being negotiated within the two institutions, in parallel.

On 12 September 2007, the Committee on Civil Liberties of the Parliament (hereafter LIBE committee) voted for a compromise on the report by the German MEP, Manfred Weber (PPE). A vote in plenary session was scheduled for 29 November 2007. The stakes are high for the MEPs who want the text to be adopted at all costs, as this would prove that the co-decision procedure is a reliable instrument and that the European Parliament is capable of negotiating matters as thorny as the fight against illegal immigration with the Council, and furthermore, involving legislative proposals.

In June 2007, the Portuguese presidency proposed a compromise to the Member States and expressed its desire to see the text adopted before the end of its mandate (December 2007).

Subsequently, a conciliation procedure between the two institutions will take place.

In a Statewatch Analysis :: The Proposed EU Returns Directive (pdf) from January 2008 Professor Steve Peers, University of Essex, concludes: "The Council's version of the Directive sets standards so low that it would be difficult for Member States go any lower - most obviously with the indefinite period of detention (along with the weak rules on judicial control of detention), but also as regards exclusions from the scope of the Directive, the deletion of the general human rights safeguard, the limited grounds for mandatory postponement of removals, the mandatory re-entry ban following a return decision, the lower standards for remedies, the accelerated procedures without a right to any remedy at all in the Directive, and the nearly non-existent safeguards pending removal."

On 23 April 2008, a compromise was reached between the Council and the European Parliament on the text of the Returns Directive.

On 5 June 2008, the EU Home Affairs Ministers agreed on the directive (see :: the full-text of the latest Council draft of the Returns Directive, 16 May 2008, (pdf)).

On 18 June 2008, the proposal for a directive will be submitted to the European Parliament.