We must not see undocumented migrants as criminals (watch a film)

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We must not see undocumented migrants as criminals

by Michele LeVoy


Around the world people see undocumented migrants as criminals because they think they are 'illegal'.(Fibonacci Blue under a Creative Commons Licence)

The EU and its member states must not see undocumented migrants as criminals for human rights and basic services, says the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM).

More and more we are seeing undocumented migrants in Europe as criminals, using criminal and other laws and through policies and action that help wrong ideas to continue.

PICUM has found that most EU member states punish these migrants.

People who help undocumented migrants for humanitarian reasons may also be punished. Helping these migrants to enter or stay in a country is seen as a crime in most member states.

The words we use are also important in creating the way people see these migrants. The idea that undocumented migrants are ‘illegal’ often creates administrative, financial and other practical problems in giving them human rights.

François Crépeau, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrant, explains that using the wrong words which see people as “illegal” is a real problem. The simple use of words can lead to verbal or physical violence.

These negative ideas forget that most undocumented migrants in Europe do not enter illegally but find problems in renewing their residence permit. Often migrants become irregular because of the negative way they are treated by their employer or because of violence based on gender.

Every day undocumented migrants and services see how the idea that they are ‘illegal’ leads people to believe that they have no rights and that migration is a crime.

Jack is an undocumented migrant from the Philippines. He said that the idea of being “illegal” stopped him from getting his first cleaning job in the Netherlands. Since then the word “illegal” has become a problem in his everyday life with people. In fact this even made him ask himself if he was really illegal. ‘Of course, I was not and will never be. I am undocumented.’ he said.

More and more European and international institutions and media have stopped using the word, ‘illegal’ and use ‘irregular’ or ‘undocumented’ migrants.

But linking the ideas around worries about national security and economic problems to irregular migration do not help undocumented migrants’ human rights or help them to become part of society.

International human-rights law guarantees undocumented migrants’ rights. European states must do everything to ensure human rights for migrants.

Watch a film about how undocumented migrants in Europe are seen as criminals: http://vimeo.com/42923106

PICUM is an international NGO for the human rights of undocumented migrants in Europe. Michele LeVoy is the organization's director.

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/blog/2013/12/19/criminalizing-undocumented-migrants-europe/