18 July 2008Ten independent United Nations human rights experts have expressed their deep concern at a proposed European Union policy that seeks to harmonize standards and procedures for returning “irregularly staying third-country nationals,” and which includes what they deem as provisions for “excessive” detention. The so-called “EU Return Directive” was approved by the European Parliament on 18 June and is currently being considered by the Council of the European Union, which is likely to take action on it next week.In a letter to the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the experts recognized that the Directive may be viewed as having the potential to create uniform standards concerning the return of undocumented immigrants across the EU.However, they voiced their concerns about some of the provisions of the policy as it stands, the principal one being the detention regime pending removal procedures for irregular immigrants. “The Directive envisages detention periods of up to 18 months, which appear to be excessive,” stated the experts, who all hold mandates under the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.The proposal would also allow countries to detain unaccompanied children, victims of human trafficking, and other vulnerable groups. “Irregular immigrants are not criminals. As a rule they should not be subjected to detention at all,” the experts stressed. “Member States are obliged to explore the availability of alternatives to detention and detention must only be for the shortest possible period of time.” The experts encouraged EU member States to strengthen the procedure of judicial review of the legality of detention. “Established time limits of judicial review must stand even in ‘emergency situations’ when an exceptionally large number of undocumented immigrants enter the territory of a member State,” they said in the letter. They also expressed concern about the possible length of entry bans of up to five years, especially its impact on vulnerable groups, such as victims of human trafficking. In their letter, they also suggest that States enhance the protection of victims of rape and other forms of gender-based violence, and sought clarification to what extent countries will take the right to education of children into account.