Visit to Canary Islands appeals for respect for rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers

Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Irene Khan, is leading a
mission to Spain to meet with government officials, human rights
organizations, survivors of human rights violations and professional
organizations. The visit will conclude with the launch of a human rights
agenda to the Spanish Government for the 2008-2011 legislature period.

During a visit to Tenerife, Irene Khan made the following statement during a symbolic event at Santa Lastenia cemetery:

“Dozens of unidentified migrants who lost their lives trying to get to
European territory through one of the main entry points, the Canary
Islands, are buried in this cemetery.

The number of people reaching the Canaries, as well as other southern
frontiers like Italy, Cyprus, Malta or Greece, has grown considerably
over the last years. Many of them are fleeing poverty and grave human
rights violations. Many of them have not made it and have died in the

Today, in the name of Amnesty International, and its more than 2
million members and supporters around the world, I want to acknowledge
this terrible human tragedy and acknowledge the suffering of these

And through this tribute I want to remind European governments that
just because some persons do not have documents, it does not mean they
do not have rights.

Every human being has human rights, regardless of their legal status,
but in many cases human rights are being put at risk because of the
immigration control policies pursued by European countries.

This is unacceptable.

Everyone has the right to be treated humanely and with dignity.
Asylum-seekers fleeing from persecution have the right to seek asylum.
Migrants have the right to be treated humanely and with dignity.

Amnesty International recognizes that States, including Spain, have the
right to control their borders and the entry of foreigners into its
territory, but not at the expense of undermining the human rights of
migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

On Wednesday 18 June, European parliamentarians will be taking a very
important decision on the return of irregular migrants – voting on a
directive which will allow European Union countries to detain people
who have not committed any crime, including minors, for up to one year
and a half.

The proposed directive is unacceptable as an EU standard and I call on
all Members of the European Parliament to vote to reject it. Detention
should only be used in very exceptional cases, always for the shortest
possible time and must not be prolonged or indefinite. Standards for
returns are needed, but we do not they should be at all costs. The
directive must include safeguards that ensure that the return of
irregular migrants is carried out in a way that respects their
fundamental rights.

Europe can do better than this. I strongly urge Members of the European
Parliament to refuse the current compromise and make sure effective
safeguards are included.

As unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable, the directive
should prohibit detention of unaccompanied children and ensure that
they are represented by a guardian.

Later today, I will visit the “La Esperanza” centre and meet some such
minors. My purpose in doing so will be to draw attention to the
vulnerability of young people, and the duty of all governments,
including that of Spain, to provide protection for them. Our concerns
in this area include reports that the Spanish authorities have deported
unaccompanied minors illegally, without taking into account the best
interests of the child and other safeguards under international law.

Prioritizing immigration control should not mean turning our backs on
the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, a particularly
vulnerable and unprotected group.

The EU is a union of value based on democracy and human rights. It must
live up to those values and protect the rights of migrants, refugees
and asylum-seekers.”