No migrant is illegal

That’s according to ‘Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders,’ released last week by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):

‘International borders are not zones of exclusion or exception for human rights obligations…under international law; States have obligations towards all persons at international borders…’

The document goes on to suggest that a closed border policy is inefficient and ‘ineffective.’ It suggests that good migration governance can bolster border protection as well as maintain human rights standards. By decriminalising irregular entry, if administrated properly, migration merely becomes a paperwork problem.

The trick is setting up the right administration. The OHCHR recommends a 3-point emphasis: human rights, non-discrimination and assistance and protection from harm. Ten guidelines addressing legal and practical issues follow, including beefing up borders with translators, doctors, and personnel trained to spot at-risk, trafficked or vulnerable people. In a tone as stern as a document with footnotes gets, ‘Guidelines’ urges full prosecution and punishment for smugglers and human rights violators.

Mare Nostrum has ended, and the Frontex-backed Triton border control operation is hardly a replacement. Operating only within Italian waters at one third of Mare Nostrum’s budget, it can’t be as effective as its predecessor.

One single entity can’t save everyone. The document acknowledges collaboration between governments and civil organisations, and urges an end to the persecution and prosecution of private mariners who perform sea rescues. In fact, it recommends compensating rescuers for their time and expenses. With no legal or financial penalty for assisting migrants, more private shipmasters will rescue more migrants, taking pressure off government-mandated search and rescue teams. Most importantly, fewer lives will be lost.

‘Guidelines’ isn’t legally binding, but it’s a compelling new way to look at migration. Whilst some of the goals may sound unrealistic, the main argument is sound: we are all humans, and deserve to be treated as such.