Reception or Detention Centres? The Detention of Migrants and the New EU ‘Hotspot’ Approach in the Light of the European Convention on Human Rights
Critical Quarterly for Legislation and Law 2016/2, p. 114-131 (Nomos)
20 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2016 Last revised: 17 Oct 2016
Date Written: February 10, 2016
Although the treatment of aliens by state authorities has been consistently under the scrutiny of the European Court of Human Rights, the detention of irregular migrants in reception centres has only very recently been examined by the Court. Given the current refugee and migration crisis in Europe and the policies implemented by states and the European Union to address the crisis, it is surprising how little attention this case law has received.
In this article, I analyse the obligations of European states concerning the reception centres of migrants and asylum seekers under the European Convention on Human Rights and I review how these obligations were interpreted by the Strasbourg Court recently. Accordingly, the article first analyses the applicable legal framework of the Convention and then proceeds by classifying the case law on the issue of detaining aliens. Two main legal issues arise respectively: First, the criteria for the establishment of reception centres where migrants can be detained and the legal basis for the detention of aliens therein. As many states detain aliens in an attempt to deal with the ongoing migration crisis, I argue that administrative practices alone, without a statutory provision and established case law, are insufficient legal bases for the detention of people at reception centres. Second, whether the exceptional character of the current crisis may play a role when adjudicating cases of detention of aliens. The case law suggests that although the Court takes into consideration the multiple challenges that states confront, the latter cannot serve as an excuse for states deviating from their obligations under the Convention.
During the analysis, I address the distinction between the right to liberty under Article 5 of the Convention and the right to liberty of movement, enshrined in Protocol 4, with the aim of investigating whether the latter may be applicable in cases of detention of aliens. I argue that under certain conditions the right to liberty of movement may be applicable in cases of detention of people who enter a member state irregularly. Finally, the article reviews the new EU ‘Hotspot’ approach adopted in 2015 by the European Commission to address emergencies at the European borders. Although this new policy has yet to be fully implemented, it poses interesting legal questions regarding the responsibility of European Union member states in the light of the European Convention on Human Rights. Despite the coordinating efforts to address the crisis, the responsibility for the conditions at reception centres still lies with the member states.
Keywords: Migration, Detention, European Court of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, EU 'Hotspot' Approach, Irregular Migrants
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