Red Cross flags concerns over growing vulnerabilities of irregular migrants

Written by Denis Haveaux on 19 December 2016 in Opinion

As the world marks international migrants' day, Denis Haveaux urges the EU to take decisive action to protect vulnerable migrants living in the 'shadows of society'. 

Denis Haveaux, Director of the Red Cross EU office | Photo credit: Red Cross

Although the numbers are difficult to measure, we know that this group is growing, as people increasingly fall off the grid because they are either denied asylum, or choose not to apply in transit countries. 

Red Cross Societies across the EU are extremely concerned by the growing vulnerabilities that they are witnessing in the migrants they encounter through their daily work. 

Migrants in an irregular situation are among the most vulnerable people in Europe. Yet many of their needs are not addressed as they often live in the shadows of society, for fear of being apprehended. Their dignity is undermined by the significant barriers they face in accessing basic services, like healthcare, education, or legal support. 


The measures in place to curtail irregular migration to and within the EU should not overshadow the fact that all migrants - including those in an irregular situation - have fundamental rights. 

Their access to humanitarian assistance, basic services, and protection must not be denied. Unfortunately, civil society organisations like the Red Cross, are sometimes struggling to reach out to migrants in an irregular situation. 

It is critical that the EU and its member states review and amend any legislation that complicates, or even outlaws the provision of humanitarian assistance to all migrants, regardless of their legal status. Gestures of solidarity and humanity are among the most positive aspects of the EU's heritage. They should be celebrated, not sanctioned.

There are many reasons behind migrants seeking irregular entry, or falling into irregularity while in a member state. Migrants that are in transit, or that have not yet requested international protection, may end up in an irregular situation. By not enhancing safe and legal routes to access protection in the EU, member states leave people with scarce options to migrate regularly. 

As the Red Cross, we directly observe the tragic humanitarian consequences of these policies. Many migrants seek increasingly dangerous routes to reach their intended destinations, or remain stranded in remote areas - where they have little access to assistance. 

In response, we aim to address their needs by delivering a range of services - including first aid, tracing, medical care, and emergency supplies - but the key challenge is being able to connect with them, especially at border crossing points and in detention. 

Several member states are currently changing their legislation to restrict the conditions to access international protection and family reunification. In addition, the increasing use of admissibility assessments as part of asylum procedures, is pushing migrants to avoid the asylum system altogether, often placing them in a legal limbo. 

There is a high risk of falling into irregularity for people whose application for international protection has been refused, but cannot be returned to their country of origin. The EU and its member states must work to facilitate these migrants' access to a secure and dignified status. 

The December European Council welcomed ongoing efforts to reinforce external border controls and facilitate returns, with the aim of reducing migrants' irregular entry and stay. 

While migrants trying to cross borders may now be less visible, they are certainly not less vulnerable. Compliance with migrants' fundamental rights must be guaranteed in all EU migration policies and programmes.


About the author

Denis Haveaux is Director of the Red Cross EU Office

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