Call for the EU to Protect Displaced People During the COVID-19 Crisis

To the 27 European Member States

Copy to the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the relevant EU agencies, namely Frontex, EASO and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency

An emergency which knows no borders: Europe must lead by example and ‘leave no one behind’ 

The past months have seen Europe and the world face unprecedented circumstances following the outbreak of the Corona virus. This public health emergency has shown that we are all in this together – disease does not discriminate between borders, nationalities, or status and only an inclusive response which ‘leaves no one behind’, will allow us to stop its spread and recover together.

Some states have moved to include all individuals without discrimination in their public health responses, paused evictions from state accommodation for asylum seekers, or have granted residence to all immigrants and asylum seekers with pending residency permits.

At the same time, however, the health crisis has mostly given rise to concerning attempts to use Covid-19 as a pretext to suspend human rights of displaced individuals. At the European Union’s external sea borders, while pushbacks continue we’ve seen the suspension of search and rescue operations and ‘closing’ of ports of arrival, and at external land borders we’ve witnessed the withholding of reception conditions and access to asylum. Similarly, at Schengen borders the practices of illegal pushbacks and arbitrary detention continue to unfold. 

As a result, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, UNHCR, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Members of the European Parliament and many others have issued clear message to European states. Governments must show solidarity and responsibility in order to safeguard all individuals’ right to life and health,echoing the plea those governments are making to their citizens, on a daily basis. 


Our Call to Action

We, the undersigned academics, lawyers, medical doctors and human rights defenders, thus call on European states, with the support of international as well as European Union institutions and agencies, to uphold the rights of refugees and displaced people at Europe’s borders amid the Covid-19 crisis. These actions must equally apply to the EU’s internal and external borders, whether land or maritime frontiers.

Firstly, allow individuals seeking international protection to access asylum registration despite border closures and refrain from unlawful summary pushbacks to uphold access to asylumand the principle of non-refoulement 3, in line with guidance issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. More specifically:

  • We urge European states along the Mediterranean and in the Aegean Sea to safeguard the right to life 4 by ending push backs and maintaining open ports for the safe arrival and disembarkation of displaced individuals, in line with international human rights and maritime law. EU Member States must continue responding to calls of distress at sea and deploy sufficient rescue capacity while allowing NGO vessels to do the same. This is in line with a recent statement issued by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights stating that, despite current challenges, “[…] saving lives at sea and disembarking survivors in a safe port must continue”.
  • At the Greek-Turkish border, and at the borders between EU Member States and neighbouring countries along the Balkan route, national authorities must put an end to the criminalisation of border crossings, ongoing violence, and arbitrary restrictions of movement putting individuals at further risks.
  • At Schengen borders, EU Member States must ensure that any border measures taken to manage public health risks are non-discriminatory and proportionate, while not preventing people from seeking international protection 5. Moreover, we urge the EU Commission to actively monitor these borders to ensure European Union law is upheld, in line with its mandate 6


Secondly, at EU internal and external land and sea borders, ensure adequate health and sanitation provisions, including access to sufficient testing and medical facilities, provision of infrastructure allowing for non-discriminatory and proportionate quarantine measures, as well as reception conditions facilitating social distancing and other preventive actions. Where this is not feasible, large-scale evacuations to adequate accommodation, such as those measures provided for individuals in overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands, must be expedited. Displaced individuals detained in makeshift and other detention facilities at EU borders should be released, using all available alternatives to detention, and provided with appropriate accommodation as well as access to health services, in line with guidelines issued by the Council of Europe and others.

The past weeks have proven that where there is political will, there are ways to protect all individuals, including the most vulnerable, to ensure a swift and durable end to the health crisis. 

The undersigned groups and individuals stand ready to support the above call to action in the spirit of solidarity and human rights. Together, we urge the European Union member states, with the support of EU institutions and agencies, to seize this opportunity to lead by example and tackle the Covid-19 crisis by leaving no one behind. 




  1. Dr Helen Adams, Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, Department of Geography, King’s College London
  2. Professor Dibyesh Anand
  3. Dr Leonie Ansems de Vries, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, King’s College London
  4. ASGI
  5. Hasan Basri BULBUL, King’s College London and Lawyer Konya Bar Association in Turkey
  6. Pat Rubio Bertran, Program Lead, Refugee Rescue
  7. Dr. Jim Bjork, Reader in Modern European History, King’s College London
  8. Carlo Borgomeo, President of the Foundation CON IL SUD
  9. Anna Brambilla, Qualified Lawyer, ASGI
  10. Nagore Calvo Mendizabal, Kings’ College London
  11. Francesca Cancellaro, Qualified Lawyer in Italy
  12. Nicola Canestrini, Qualified Lawyer in Italy
  13. Prof. Dr. Ilse Derluyn, Centre for the Social Study of Migration and Refugees (CESSMIR), Ghent University
  14. Marcello di Filippo, Professor at Pisa University and Coordinator of the Observatory on European Immigration Law 
  15. Dr Jenny Driscoll Senior Lecturer in Child Studies King’s College London
  16. Annette Elder, Refugee lawyer, Elder Rahimi Solicitors
  17. Ziad Elmarsafy, Professor of Comparative Literature, King’s College London
  18. Salvatore Fachile, Qualified Lawyer, ASGI
  19. Didier Fassin, Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Director of Studies at EHESS and Chair of Public Health at the Collège de France 
  20. Cesare Fermi, Migration Unit Regional Director, INTERSOS
  21. Dr Sarah Fine, Department of Philosophy, King’s College London 
  22. Simona Fraudatario, Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, General Secretariat
  23. Alessandro Gamberini, Qualified Lawyer in Italy
  24. Eve Geddie, Head of the European Institution Office and Advocacy Director, Amnesty International
  25. Dr Stuart Gordon, Programme Director International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies MSc, LSE
  26. Jessamy Gould, Director, Treebeard Trust
  27. François Héran, Professor at Collège de France
  28. Taryn Higashi, Executive Director, Unbound Philanthropy
  29. Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy Director, ILGA-Europe
  30. Dr Aisha Hutchinson, Lecturer in Social Sciences King’s College London
  31. Dr. Machiko Kanetake, Assistant Professor, Utrecht University
  32. Michael Kientzle, Coordinator and co-founder, Mobile Info Team 
  33. Thierry Lang, Professor of Public Health, Toulouse University
  34. Stefano Liberti, Journalist 
  35. Naoual Mahroug, Anthropology researcher, Cerlis
  36. Juliette Malfaisan, Qualified Lawyer, France
  37. Maurizio Marceca, President of the Italian Society of Migration Medicine (SIMM)
  38. Marie Naass, Head of Advocacy Germany & EU, Sea Watch
  39. Josie Naughton, CEO, Help Refugees 
  40. Dr Bríd Ní Ghráinne, Senior Researcher, Masaryk University and Institute of International Relations Prague
  41. Dr. Salvatore F. Nicolosi. Assistant Professor and Coordinator LL.M. European Law, Utrecht University 
  42. Maria Nyman, Secretary General, Caritas Europa
  43. Dr Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik
  44. Sophie Pouget, Qualified Lawyer and President of Committee for Refugee Relief
  45. Michael Privot, Director, European Network Against Racism (ENAR)
  46. Refugee Legal Support
  47. Refugees International 
  48. Enrica Rigo, Professor of Philosophy of Law and Coordinator of Legal Immigration Clinic at Rome TRE University
  49. Giancarlo Santone, Doctor, Director of SAMIFO – health centre for forced migrants – Regional health structure
  50. Aldo Schiavello, Professor of Philosophy of Law in Italy
  51. Paula Schmid Porras, Lawyer and Associate Professor of International Law and International Relations at University of Sevilla
  52. Giorgia Serughetti, Researcher University of Milano-Bicocca 
  53. Patrick Simon, Senior Researcher at Ined and Head of Department Integer at Institute for Migrations, Paris 
  54. Serge Slama, Professor in Public Law, University Grenoble-Alpes
  55. Charlotte Slente, Secretary General, Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
  56. Catherine Teitgen-Colly, Professor emeritus at Paris 1 University (Panthéon – Sorbonne) 
  57. Lorenzo Trucco, Qualified Lawyer and President of ASGI
  58. Frances Webber, Barrister
  59. Marta Welander, Executive Director, Refugee Rights Europe
  60. Catherine Wihtold de Wenden, Research Director, CERI SciencesPo
  61. Colin Yeo, barrister at Garden Court Chambers 




1.      Art. 11(3) European Social Charter

2.      Art. 18 & 19 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights

3.      According to Art.2 & 3 ECHR, this principle is non-derogable.

4.      Art. 3 UDHR, Art. 2 & 3 ECHR, Art. 2 European Charter

5.      Rec. 36, Arts. 3b & 7 of the Schengen Borders Code, Reg (EU) 2016/399

6.      Art. 17(1) Treaty on the European Union