OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Papers no, rights yes

Immigrants may be detained at the frontier if their situation is illegal, but they are still human beings

On February 6, some people who, swimming or clinging to flimsy floats, were attempting to reach the beach at Tarajal in Ceuta, were treated as dangerous enemies by Spanish civil guards who, obeying orders from above, shot at them with rubber bullets and blanks. At least 15 of them drowned. How could this happen? An investigation is going on as to who gave these orders, but whatever the political responsibility borne by the director of the Civil Guard, there is one explanation — the same explanation for what has often happened on the land borders, fenced as these are with razor wire. I am talking about the idea that only EU citizens have rights, and that those who arrive at our gates without suitable papers can claim nothing: no rules, no precepts, no principles are to guide the treatment accorded them.

This is a false and pernicious idea. True, people who are attempting to enter a country without the documents required for it are illegal. They may, in accordance with the law, be arrested and, after a certain period, expelled again, to their land of origin, or the one they immediately came from. That's all. By being illegal, with no right of residence, they have lost none of their other rights as human beings; they must be treated with respect and helped if they are in danger; and they must have an interpreter, so that if they demand political asylum, they can begin to take the bureaucratic steps. This period of detainment of up to 18 months under EU rules has been denounced even by the moderate Red Cross, which considers that such a long period should be used on "limited" occasions and subject to judicial control. "The present practices in the EU must be revised in the direction of proportionality."

The Stockholm Program has not increased the security of EU citizens or their wellbeing. It has helped to create a certain confusion between immigrants and criminals

The end of this year will see the expiry of the so-called Stockholm Program, by which the member countries of the Union are to set their priorities in matters related with interior security and also with protection of frontiers, immigration and asylum. The last day of January was the European Commission's deadline for proposals, analysis and debate previous to that revision. If you visit the webpage where these documents appear, you soon notice two things: first, that the member countries' authorities have done rather little. In the Spanish case only one document has been put forward, in which the regional government of Catalonia demands more powers for itself, as usual.

The second conclusion is that most of the international organizations who did send documents (46) are worried about the EU position, and ask that it be thoroughly overhauled. Bodies such as Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and a group of major Christian organizations, all ask that immigration should not be viewed as a matter of security and protection of the rights of EU citizens; that people entering in an irregular manner should not be criminalized; and that absolute priority should be given to the duty and obligation for rescue and protection of people who are encountered in danger at sea.

The ICJ, for example, is most insistent in this respect, pointing out that a number of longstanding international laws are already being contravened; and recommending that the European Commission seek to formulate norms for search and rescue in Union waters, modeling these in general upon the traditional Law of the Sea. The great majority of these documents bear witness to one notable reality: the Stockholm Program has not increased the security of EU citizens, or their liberty, or their wellbeing. It has, however, helped to create a certain confusion between immigrants and criminals — so much so that it becomes possible for a civil guard to fire blanks at a person who is, in fact, a drowning man, in the belief that he is defending his country.

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