The European Union (EU) has long recognised the need to protect all victims of crime without discrimination.

The EU Victim Rights Directive (VRD) articulates this commitment in law, stating that victim rights cannot be denied based on residence status (Article 1). It applies to criminal offences within the Union and extraterritorial offences, including those occurring in immigration detention and at the EU’s borders. The EU Strategy on Victims’ Rights (2020-2025) further recognises undocumented people among the categories of “vulnerable victims”.

However, a paradox emerges when victim rights are juxtaposed with the EU’s migration policy: immigration control is prioritised over a person’s rights and needs.

Being undocumented, or having an insecure residence status, makes people susceptible to mistreatment, abuse and severe forms of exploitation, including human trafficking and forced labour.

When migration status intersects with other forms of discrimination, including gender, ethnic or social origin, sexual orientation or gender identity and disability, abuse is exacerbated. The abuse may also result from actions from public authorities (e.g. police, border guards, staff in immigration detention centres).

Migrants with irregular status face potential abuse not only when arriving at the EU’s borders (e.g.
pushbacks) but also when living within the EU. This abuse may occur in the workplace, in personal relationships, but also in other settings (e.g. immigration detention).

The EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, coupled with other initiatives seeking to further criminalise migration across the EU, raises alarming concerns for the future. Far from upholding justice and protection, these policies are expected to escalate human rights violations and perpetuate discriminatory practices within the very structures meant to safeguard all individuals.

The EU must reinforce its legal tools to ensure universal access to justice, unconditional support, and protection without discrimination.

The ongoing revision of the VRD is a pivotal opportunity to strengthen the rights and protection granted to victims, irrespective of their residence status.

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