Anyone giving humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants should not have to risk punishment for facilitating irregular entry or stay, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights said.

In a new paper, “Criminalisation of irregular migrants", it says rescue at sea or humanitarian services such as food, shelter, medical care or legal advice to migrants in an irregular situation should not carry a risk of punishment.

The paper says that renting accommodation to irregular migrants without the intention of preventing the migrant’s removal should not be considered facilitation of stay.

The paper is part of FRA’s on-going work in the area of asylum and migration and a contribution to the current discussions about modifying EU legislation on assisting unauthorised entry.

The paper, “Criminalisation of irregular migrants” begins by discussing the punishments administered by member states for irregular entry or residence.

“The majority of member states punish irregular entry and stay with imprisonment and/or a fine. This risks migrants being imprisoned beyond the pre-removal detention that is allowed by the Return Directive, which sets out standards and procedures for returning irregular migrants.”

The paper says that because of a real or perceived danger of detection, migrants in an irregular situation were often too afraid to use medical facilities, send their children to school, register their children’s births or attend religious services.

“If the state encourages the public to report migrants in an irregular situation to the immigration authorities, this will drive migrants further underground, depriving them of access to public services and making them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”

Criminalisation, it said, harmed not only the migrants themselves, but also those who supported them, such as providers of humanitarian or legal assistance, or people who rescued migrants in distress at sea. Fishermen, for example, feared punishment for rescuing migrants at sea. Landlords might also be punished for renting accommodation to irregular migrants.