Open Letter from International Lawyers to EU States, the European Union and European Publics on the Refugee Crisis in Europe

Open Letter from International Lawyers to EU States, the European Union and European Publics on the Refugee Crisis in Europe

[Dr. Başak Çalı is Director for the Center of Global Public Law and Associate Professor of International Law at Koç University, Turkey. She the secretary general of the European Society of International Law. The following is written in her personal capacity.]

It is a rare event for international lawyers to overwhelmingly agree on the content, scope and interpretation of international law. This open letter (.pdf) from 674 international lawyers and practitioners from across the globe, including leading experts in international refugee law, concerning international law obligations to those seeking refuge is one example of this. The letter emerged from a session on ‘Refugee Crisis and Europe’ that took place at the 11th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law in Oslo on 12th September 2015. It was open for signature for just two days, from 21st September until midnight on 22nd September 2015. The letter has been sent to EU leaders ahead of their informal meeting on migration. Due to overwhelming demands from international lawyers and EU’s ongoing discussion of the issue, the letter has been re-opened for signature until 28 September 2015 Midnight CET.

The text of 22 September states:

We, the undersigned international lawyers, gathered at the European Society of International Law 11th Annual Meeting in Oslo on 12th September 2015, and other international law scholars and experts, condemn the failure to offer protection to people seeking refuge in Europe, and the lack of respect for the human rights of those seeking refuge.

In particular, we express our horror at the human rights violations being perpetrated against those seeking refuge, in particular the acts of violence, unjustified coercion and arbitrary detention.

We note that European states have obligations not only to refugees and migrants on their territories, but that international refugee law rests on international responsibility sharing. The world’s refugees are disproportionately outside Europe. We note that over nine-tenths of Syrian refugees are in five countries, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. We note that around one quarter of Lebanon’s population comprises refugees.

We note that all European states have obligations not only to refugees as defined under the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, but also to those protected against return under international human rights law and customary international law. We note that this broad duty of non-refoulement protects all those at real risk of serious human rights violations if returned. They should be afforded international protection. EU Member States have further obligations under EU law.

We urge European states and the EU to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, prevent further loss of life in dangerous journeys to Europe by providing safe passage, and live up to their obligations in international and EU law.

We recall the legacy of Fridtjof Nansen, the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the initiator of the Nansen passport, created to facilitate the safe passage and legal migration opportunities for refugees and stateless persons.

We urge European states and the EU to:

– meet their obligations of international responsibility-sharing, to resettle significant numbers of refugees and provide aid to countries hosting large numbers of refugees.

– as regards those seeking protection in Europe, abandon those policies which prevent safe and legal access to protection. The UNHCR estimates over 2,860 people have died at sea trying to get to Europe this year alone. Suspending carrier sanctions and issuing humanitarian visas would largely prevent the need for those seeking refuge to make dangerous journeys.

– respect and protect the human rights of those seeking refuge once they are in Europe, including by enabling them to access asylum procedures or ensuring safe passage to countries where they wish to seek international protection.

– immediately suspend Dublin returns of asylum-seekers to their first point of entry, but ensure that its rules on family reunification are implemented fully and swiftly.

– relocate asylum-seekers and refugees in a manner that respects the dignity and agency of those relocated, and increases Europe’s capacity to offer protection.

– replace the Dublin System with one which accords with international human rights law and respects the dignity and autonomy of asylum-seekers, and supports international and intra-European responsibility-sharing.

– implement fair and swift procedures to recognize all those in need of international protection.

– while claims are being examined, afford those in need of international protection, at a minimum, the reception conditions to which they are entitled in international human rights and EU law.

– respect the right to family life, including positive obligations with regard to family unity, facilitation of swift family reunification and family tracing.

– treat all refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants with dignity and respect, respecting and protecting their human rights, irrespective of status.

For the current list of signatures, please see this page.

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General, International Human Rights Law
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Can the signatories make a distinction between a refugee and a migrant amongst this waves of people entering Europe? And can this esteemed group state unequivocally that this large influx do not have terrorists under the guise of refugees? No state can, in order to uphold its international obligations under a treaty (the Refugee Convention) sacrifice its national interests and security. There have been several news reports of suspected jihadists amongst these so-called refugees. It needs no emphasis that national security cannot be sacrificed on the altar of international law. The very same electorate which is empathizing with these migrants will accuse its leaders if terrorist acts increase within Europe in the aftermath of the crisis.


Dear Kumar,
I am sure that the international lawyers behind this, in my point of view, very important letter are aware of Article 1(f) of the 1951 Refugee Convention. This article makes sure that the rights given to refugees do not extend to persons who have committed ‘a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity’ (1(f)(a)) as well as ‘other serious non-political crimes’ (1(f)(b)) and even those who have ‘committed an act contrary to the purpose and principles of the United Nations’.
This, in my point of view, ensures that the law is not on the side of those that are jihadists (from a socio-historical perspective a very interesting term, that is clearly misused to describe modern terrorists).
Also, I must submit to you that though a minor percentage of people might present a certain danger, it would be unacceptable for states to not grant the majority of people the fulfillment of their rights. This argument if thought to a larger picture would mean that every state could become a dictatorship suppressing its own people, because there are a few murderers in every society.


Dear David
I appreciate your point of view. The geopolitical situation in the region from where the influx is happening has changed drastically. The post 9/11 scenario and the terror attacks in France and Belgium, not to mention the ones that have been thwarted have altered the dynamics. The threats that I have mentioned are not from thieves or few murderers, but those capable of holding an entire city or cities to ransom. In the Charlie Hebdo attack, the terrorists were just a couple of guys who managed to bring Paris to its knees. An attack like Mumbai 26/11 will force European leadership to re-think about admitting migrants/refugees. Also many who have managed to enter Europe are economic migrants from relatively conflict-free regions of South Asia.

lloyd a cohen

Mr. Kuymar is on the button when mentioning the problem of potential terrorists; and, until they can be screened, there will be issues or potential issues. One of the major reasons why Israel closed its borders to the refugees although they have taken in others in the past(Ethopoians)
David, given the fact that these refugees follow the KORAN

lloyd a cohen

David (opps) which degrades non-followers of the Koran and given some of the past extreme incidents manufactured by them, this become a huge issue for the protection of the host country.


@lloyd a cohen & David
This large-scale influx will inevitably lead to a drastic alteration in the demographic profile of Europe (Do not forget that Saudi Arabia instead of offering assistance, offered to build mosques). It will lead to the imposition of the draconian Sharia instead of the secular civil law which is in force in Europe. In short this influx will only serve the purpose of formation of the world caliphate which is the objective of ISIS. Madam Chancellor will bequeath a dangerous and uncertain future for generations to come. And legally speaking, the Refugee Convention has a basic flaw in that it does not provide for repatriation of the refugees to their home state after the situation has improved. Voluntary repatriation is not a viable solution to this type of crisis.


The acceptance of Muslim migrants/refugees will lead to socio-cultural problems as witnessed in France and the debate in Canada. Please read