On international migrants’ day, the Red Cross EU Office urges the EU and its Member States to take decisive action to protect the dignity of migrants in an irregular situation.
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. They frequently live clandestinely, and face significant difficulties in accessing
basic services and vital assistance like healthcare, education, or legal support. “Although the
numbers are difficult to measure, we know that this group is growing, as people fall off the grid
because they are either denied asylum, or choose not to apply in transit countries. Our
members are concerned by the increasing vulnerability of the migrants they encounter through
their work,” underlines Denis Haveaux, Director of the Red Cross EU Office.
Measures aimed at curtailing 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.
However, civil society organisations that are committed to responding to the needs of all
migrants, such as National Red Cross Societies, face difficulties in reaching out to migrants in
an irregular situation. Today more than ever, we call on the EU and its Member States to review
and amend any legislation that complicates, or even outlaws the provision of humanitarian
assistance to migrants. “Gestures of solidarity and humanity are among the most positive
aspects of the EU’s heritage. They should be celebrated” stresses Denis Haveaux. “It is crucial
that EU leaders enable and encourage humanitarian assistance.”
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 find themselves in an irregular situation. The absence of safe,
legal routes to access protection in the EU also pushes people to migrate irregularly. National
Red Cross Societies across Europe observe the results; many migrants seek increasingly
dangerous routes to reach their intended destination, or remain stranded in remote areas -
where they have little access to services and assistance. “Our colleagues deliver a range of
services including first aid, tracing, medical care, and emergency supplies such as food, water,
and hygiene items. They provide support to all migrants, irrespective of their legal status.” adds
Denis Haveaux. “The key challenge is being able to connect with migrants in an irregular
situation, especially at border crossing points and in detention. We are extremely concerned
by the humanitarian consequences of this situation”.
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. For people whose application
for international protection has been refused but cannot be returned to their country of origin
due to concrete practical or legal obstacles, there is a high risk of falling into irregularity. The
EU and its Member States must work to facilitate these migrants’ access to a secure and
In the recent months, the EU and its Member States have emphasised reinforcing external
border controls and facilitating returns to reduce migrants’ irregular entry and stay. While
migrants trying to cross borders may now be less visible, they are certainly not less vulnerable.
“While return is a possible phase of migration, it should only take place when it can be carried
out safely and with dignity”, says Denis Haveaux. “Compliance with the migrant’s fundamental
rights must be guaranteed”.
Read our recommendations “Protecting the dignity and rights of migrants in an irregular
All migrants have rights