Monday, 21 November 2011


Illegal migrants in the EU are being denied basic rights to education and healthcare, even though governments have a legal obligation to respect them, the 27-nation bloc's watchdog agency said Monday.

"It's very important to remind ourselves that the reason people have human rights is because they are human beings. Human rights do not follow from a work permit or residence permit. The passport to human rights is that you're born," said Morten Kjaerum, head of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights

"I understand why it's difficult for people to comprehend, since these persons are irregular, why they should have rights," Kjaerum told reporters at an EU conference in Poland.

"But we employ irregular migrants as cheap domestic workers to clean our homes. We eat the fruit and vegetables that they pick. We may need them in our hotel business, otherwise hotel prices would be way higher and we'd have fewer tourists," he underlined.

"What we see though it that many member states turn a blind eye to this issue," he added, without singling out countries.

EU and UN accords set out rights to free primary school education and access to basic healthcare -- the two issues in Kjaerum's spotlight.

"These two rights are non-negotiable," applying to citizens and migrants, whether legal or illegal, the Danish trained-lawyer said.

"This is not a moral statement. It is simply law," he added.

"It goes without saying that it's up to member states to decide who should enter their territory and who should be allowed to remain. But as long as people are within the jurisdiction of the member states, they have to protect their basic rights," Kjaerum stressed.

In a report, the EU agency said healthcare rights are "unevenly protected", with children and pregnant women often not getting the free treatment that citizens enjoy.

The right to education "remains unclear in many countries," with free access to state schools only available in five EU nations, it said.

It also warned that police raids in schools and hospitals could drive migrants away.

Illegal migrants are also vulnerable to exploitation by employers, who can get away with physical abuse and failing to pay wages because migrants fear deportation if they seek justice, it noted.

The economic crisis may have worsened the situation, said Kjaerum, saying anecdotal evidence showed "a considerable number" of illegal migrants have "slid from the grey labour market and are now part of the extreme exploitation labour market".

Estimates for the number of illegal migrants in the EU range from 1.9 million to 3.8 million, with the top destinations in descending order being Britain, Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Poland.

Such migrants are thought to make up six to 12 percent of the bloc's non-EU-born residents.


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