Advocacy Priorities for JRS Europe

An important part of the JRS mission is to defend the human rights of refugees and forced migrants. JRS Europe advocates for dignified and just policies at the European level to ensure that the forcibly displaced are protected and included within our society.

In order to accomplish this goal we closely work with JRS country offices in Europe to know about the issues of greatest concern to refugees. Utilising their knowledge and field experience, we take refugees' concerns directly to lawmakers in the European Union, and to other European institutions that are involved in policymaking for refugees and migrants. For example, using the latest knowledge from the field we lobby European Parliamentarians to include amendments in EU legislation that protect the rights of asylum seekers.

With the help of country offices, we monitor how EU rules on immigration detention, for example, are implemented at the national level and we share this information with the European Commission. We provide field information to the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, which they use for their reporting and monitoring. And we communicate directly to the EU border agency, Frontex, as members of their Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights.

We also systematically research gaps in legal and social protection for refugees. Our research allows us to craft policy recommendations that are based not only on our presence with refugees, but on a specific analysis of key issues. Conferences, policy and press briefings are typically how we disseminate our research and advocacy recommendations to specific audiences. At every public event we try to include the participation of refugees, whom we invite to speak for themselves.

Click on the tabs below to learn about our advocacy priorities.

  • Immigration detention
  • Access to Protection
  • Dublin Regulation
  • Alternatives to detention
Detention should be kept exceptional and as a last resort

Nearly every JRS country office in Europe visits asylum seekers and migrants held in detention centres. Our staff and volunteers provide legal and social support, pastoral counseling and a friendly ear. During our visits to detention centres we speak with as many people as we can, record key concerns that we encounter and bring these to the staff so they can be resolved. We monitor the conditions of the detention centre to make sure the environment is clean and safe, that staff interacts with people in a dignified manner and that people's needs are fully met. In Brussels, JRS Europe uses these detention-visiting experiences to inform EU policymakers and to advocate for the adoption of EU rules that safeguard people from the worst effects of detention.

We believe that asylum seekers should never be detained. Migrants who are to be removed to their country of origin should only be detained as a last resort, when all other less coercive alternatives have proven ineffective. Families and children, as well as unaccompanied minors, should never be detained. People who are in detention should have access to free legal assistance, and must be able to communicate with loved ones on the outside. The time length of detention should be kept as short as possible.

Please click here to learn more about our work on detention.
Fair and dignfied EU border policies that protect rights

There are few safe ways for a refugee to come to Europe. One cannot fly to Europe without a visa, and it can be extremely difficult - if not impossible - for a refugee to obtain one. Refugees are on the run and often do not have time to even arrange their documents to apply for a visa, let alone waiting for one.

In response to the mass displacement of civilians due to the war in Syria and ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Libya, JRS Europe is calling on European leaders to open up more safe and legal ways for refugees to reach Europe.

Given the lack of legal options to come to Europe, many refugees resort to paying smugglers thousands of euros to ferry them across land and sea borders. This is a deadly option: at the first sign of government authorities, smugglers abandon refugees wherever they are, whether on the open Mediterranean Sea or in the deserts of southern Algeria. Food and water is scarce, refugees are vulnerable to thievery and violence, and women to sexual abuse. And when they do reach the borders of a European country, they are detained or even pushed back by European border guards to countries where they are at risk of abuse.

JRS advocates, first and foremost, that people who come to Europe with protection needs must be able to apply for asylum in an EU country. They must not be pushed back to countries that cannot protect them. Moreover, asylum seekers must not be sent back to countries where they would be at risk of abuse. European border guards, especially those that are part of Frontex missions, must be able to identify people with protection needs and ensure they are safely taken to an EU country. And the EU must endeavour to ensure that in its relations with external countries, the human rights of migrants and refugees are addressed.

Click here to learn more about our work on access to protection in Europe.

Maintaining dignity in the EU asylum system

The Dublin Regulation is an EU law that determines member state responsibility for examining asylum applications. When it was adopted in 2003, EU lawmakers had good intentions: to ensure that asylum seekers wouldn't be ignored by governments, one member state would be made responsible for assessing a particular individual's asylum application. However these good intentions went bad in the law's implementation.

Many asylum seekers are transferred to EU countries where they do not want to be. Worryingly, many are transferred to EU border countries who have poorly run asylum systems. People are frequently detained while governments decide which other country should take on their asylum application. Families are split apart, and people are shipped around Europe without ever being able to exercise personal choice. The Dublin Regulation is supposed to the cornerstone of asylum protection in Europe. Instead it is a source of frustration and confusion for most asylum seekers.

JRS advocates for asylum seekers to submit their applications in a country of their choice. If an asylum seeker has family in Europe, then they should be reunified with them so long as its in their best interests. Asylum seekers shouldn't be sent to EU countries with poorly managed asylum systems, because people with genuine protection needs run the risk of never getting a fair asylum procedure. Any system that organises how asylum applications are assessed in Europe must be based on the protection of human dignity.

Click here to learn more about our work on the Dublin Regulation.
More cost-effective and dignified than detention

Governments need not put migrants in harm's way by detaining them because alternatives to detention exist that are cost-effective and more dignified for migrants.

Detention is costly to the taxpayer. Maintaining one detention centre can cost as much as €10 million per year, or anywhere from €120-180 per person, per day. And the countries that detain most frequently in Europe -- Belgium, France, Germany, the UK -- operate several detention centres. The costs of detention are not only financial: evidence overwhelmingly shows that people endure serious harm to their physical and mental health in detention, from severe depression to self-harm, and from insomnia to bacterial infections.

Instead of putting migrants in detention, governments can instead accommodate them in the community. Alternatives to detention come at half the financial cost of detention and are more dignified and respectful of migrants' rights. Families can have more privacy, and children can play in a more natural setting and even attend local schools. Government fears that migrants would run away from the authorities if not detained have no evidence base. So long as migrants receive comprehensive and adequate support, access to decent housing and have their basic needs met, then most comply with the immigration authorities on their own volition.

Our specialist website on detention has more specific information about alternatives, as well as research we've done and recommendations we've made. Click here to learn more