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International Migrants' Day: Our call to respect the rights of migrants in an irregular situation


Ahead of International Migrants’ Day, the Red Cross EU Office urges the EU and its Member States to take decisive action to protect the dignity of migrants in an irregular situation.

Migrants in an irregular situation are among the most vulnerable people in Europe. Yet many of their needs are not addressed as they often live in the shadows of society, for fear of being apprehended. They frequently live clandestinely, and face significant difficulties in accessing basic services and vital assistance like healthcare, education, or legal support. "Although the numbers are difficult to measure, we know that this group is growing, as people fall off the grid because they are either denied asylum, or choose not to apply in transit countries. Our members are concerned by the increasing vulnerability of the migrants they encounter through their work,” underlines Denis Haveaux, Director of the Red Cross EU Office.

Measures aimed at curtailing irregular migration to and within the EU should not overshadow the fact that all migrants – including those in an irregular situation – have fundamental rights. Their access to humanitarian assistance, basic services, and protection must not be denied. However, civil society organisations that are committed to responding to the needs of all migrants, such as National Red Cross Societies, face difficulties in reaching out to migrants in an irregular situation. Today more than ever, we call on the EU and its Member States to review and amend any legislation that complicates, or even outlaws the provision of humanitarian assistance to migrants. "Gestures of solidarity and humanity are among the most positive aspects of the EU’s heritage. They should be celebrated,” stresses Denis Haveaux. "It is crucial that EU leaders enable and encourage humanitarian assistance.”

There are many reasons behind migrants seeking irregular entry, or falling into irregularity while in a Member State. Migrants that are in transit, or that have not yet requested international protection, may find themselves in an irregular situation. The absence of safe, legal routes to access protection in the EU also pushes people to migrate irregularly. National Red Cross Societies across Europe observe the results; many migrants seek increasingly dangerous routes to reach their intended destination, or remain stranded in remote areas - where they have little access to services and assistance. "Our colleagues deliver a range of services including first aid, tracing, medical care, and emergency supplies such as food, water, and hygiene items. They provide support to all migrants, irrespective of their legal status,” adds Denis Haveaux. "The key challenge is being able to connect with migrants in an irregular situation, especially at border crossing points and in detention. We are extremely concerned by the humanitarian consequences of this situation.

Several Member States are currently changing their legislation to restrict the conditions to access international protection and family reunification. In addition, the increasing use of admissibility assessments as part of asylum procedures, is pushing migrants to avoid the asylum system altogether, often placing them in a legal limbo. For people whose application for international protection has been refused but cannot be returned to their country of origin due to concrete practical or legal obstacles, there is a high risk of falling into irregularity. The EU and its Member States must work to facilitate these migrants’ access to a secure and dignified status.

The December European Council welcomed ongoing efforts to reinforce external border controls and facilitate returns, with the aim of reducing migrants’ irregular entry and stay. While migrants trying to cross borders may now be less visible, they are certainly not less vulnerable. "Although return is a possible phase of migration, it should only take place when it can be carried out safely and with dignity”, says Denis Haveaux. "Compliance with the migrants' fundamental rights must be guaranteed throughout the migratory trail.


More information:

Read our recommendations on Protecting the Dignity and Rights of Migrants in an Irregular Situation.

For media inquiries, please contact Eva Oyón on: or +32 2 235 09 22

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