The former UN High Commissioner, Navy Pillay, challenged the crowd as she bared naked the misguided perceptions and assumptions that hunt migrants. On Thursday, Pillay became the first ever recipient of the Honorary Doctorate during a Mandeville lecture.

The Erasmus School of Law and the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague issued this year’s honorary doctorate. Pillay was praised for her career of ‘first places’ as a she became the first coloured woman to establish her own law firm in South Africa as well as being the first non-white woman to serve in the high court of South Africa.

Children detention

Pillay took a human rights standpoint as she laid bare every aspect of the current migration crisis. During the lecture, she addressed the common practise of immigrant children’s detention. Often, when families migrate, children are taken from the parents and placed in detention. Evoking international law regulations, Pillay highlighted that the practise goes against the internationally agreed norms. Furthermore, she emphasized the legitimate right of vulnerable migrant groups, such as children, to be granted with special protection.

Pillay’s concerns for refugees’ human rights violation extends further as she criticized the EU-Turkey refugee agreement. The deal allows Greece to deport refugees who arrived after 20 March back to Turkey. The former UN High Commissioner denounced the contradictory nature of the pact as it violates UN Commission’s directions as well as international regulations. “This agreement allows for discrimination, deportation and detention of migrants. How can the EU accept such example?” argued Pillay.

“Immigration is not a problem, but an opportunity”

Michelle Fu (28), student at the Erasmus School of Law, attended the lecture: “This is a great occasion to raise awareness around the issues related to migrants. It is a wakeup call for European countries to consider the issue from a humanitarian point of view. You often hear about the refugees’ situation on the news, but then, it doesn’t sink in. Hearing it from her, who has so much experience in the field, gets to you.” Aspasia Karampetsou (25) who is a PhD candidate at the Erasmus School of Law attended Pillay’s masterclass too: “What hit me from her class was how she described immigration, not as a problem, but as an opportunity. What stuck with me was the realisation that people are always moving, migrating. It’s human nature!”