The Council of European human rights commissioner has told British ministers to stop referring to illegal immigrants, claiming they should use the term irregular migrants for foreigners who enter this country without permission.
Mr Muižnieks singled out David Cameron, the Prime Minister, for criticism, suggesting he had scaled up the alarmist rhetoric targeting migrants in official speeches.
In an official memorandum to James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, Mr Muižnieks said: “The commissioner is worried by the dominant political discourse in the UK which is tainted by alarmism.
“UK political leaders are urged to reflect on the language they use regarding foreign nationals and should avoid the term ‘illegal (im)migrant’.
“People are not illegal. Their legal status may be irregular, but that does not render them beyond humanity.”
He added: “Prime Minister Cameron, in at least two major speeches on immigration, has scaled up the alarmist rhetoric targeting migrants.
“Regrettably throughout his public speeches the prime minister has used the term ‘illegal migrants’ which carries stigmatising connotations, as the adjective ‘illegal’ is usually linked to criminality.”
The commissioner urged widespread changes to Britain’s immigration laws.
Mr Muižnieks’ official paper said: “The commissioner is struck by the draconian legislative and other measures that have been adopted by the UK in recent years, or are envisaged, in order to criminalise and thus curb irregular migration.”
Mr Muižnieks, a Latvian human rights activist who was appointed to the commissioner role in 2012, added ministers should “review and put an end” to the Right to Rent scheme, which requires landlords to check whether prospective tenants have the right to live in Britain before signing a lease agreement.
The commissioner claimed the policy – a key part of the 2014 Immigration Act – had led to “indirect discrimination and deprives migrants from their human right to adequate housing”.
The Home Office, in its official reply, rejected the commissioner’s demand over the rental scheme, noting the policy had been “approved by Parliament”.
The response did not specifically address the commissioner’s demands on the phrase “illegal immigrant” but the nine-page British document did pointedly use the phrase “illegal migrants”.
“We have taken a wide range of measures to cut out abuse of our immigration system by making it systematically harder for people to illegally enter, work or remain in the UK,” it added.
David Davies, the Conservative MP for Monmouth, said: “The commissioner is a disgrace and should resign.
“Our immigration rules are fair – in fact they’re not strict enough.
“The Council of Europe, of which I’m a member, is afraid to tell it how it is when it comes immigration.
“These migrants are largely groups of young men and are economic migrants with very different attitudes to women’s rights and gay rights.
“This can be very much to the detriment of women, Jews and gay people in this country and others, as we saw in Cologne earlier this year when women were sexually assaulted by gangs of men.”
Philip Hollobone, another Conservative backbencher, said: “This pronouncement from another European Federalist politician is politicial correctness gone mad.
“The niceties and delicacies of the language this man suggests are lost on my constituents.”
It came as a separate report disclosed the Home Office has lost track of tens of thousands of students who may have no right to be in Britain.
David Bolt, the chief inspector of borders and immigration, said the Home Office catalogued 71,601 cases between April 2013 and March last year which involved foreign students who may have breached their visas.
Mr Bolt disclosed: “There was no process in place to monitor [the] cases to ensure that individuals with no right to remain in the UK had departed voluntarily or, where necessary, had been identified for enforcement action.
“Many of these individuals may have departed the UK or have been granted leave to remain on other grounds.
“However, the true position, including the number and whereabouts of those who have remained in the UK illegally is not known.
He urged ministers to “take the necessary steps to identify and locate” the 71,000 former students in a bid to “effect their removal” from the country.
A separate report by the chief inspector said the Home Office spent £1.4 million last year on tickets to remove failed asylum seekers and other immigration offenders which were never used.
It was due to a “large number of cancelled and rescheduled removals”, he said.
Mr Davies said: “It’s an alarming figure and we need to know more.
“Worse still, it could only be a fraction of the true total and the situation must be investigated fully by the Home Secretary as a matter of urgency.”