On Migrants Day, UN calls on States to ratify treaty protecting their rights

18 December 2006 –

The United Nations today marked International Migrant’s Day with fervent appeals for the vast majority of States who have not yet done so to adhere to the treaty that seeks to protect the rights of the estimated 195 million people around the world who have left their homelands in search of better lives.

“Rising numbers of migrants are being exploited and abused by smugglers and traffickers,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message. “Others suffer discrimination, xenophobia or racism. In some instances migrants are demonized as a burden on their host societies even when objective assessments suggest otherwise.”

Mr. Annan noted that international cooperation can play a crucial role in ending such abuse, pointing to last September’s UN Summit in New York which highlighted a core set of priorities, ranging from ensuring the human rights of migrants and preventing exploitation and people-smuggling to increasing the development gains from international migration.

He stressed the many important safeguards contained in the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, including the provision of accurate information on conditions of migration, so that it becomes an informed choice and not a jump into the unknown; and halting illegal movement of migrants so that they do not fall victim to unscrupulous criminals.

Other clauses provide for stopping clandestine employment of irregular migrants so that they do not work in abusive conditions but enjoy safe and decent work and equal wages; and facilitate the orderly return of migrants, so that they can enjoy adequate economic and social conditions for their reintegration.

“Yet most States have yet to adhere to this treaty,” Mr. Annan said. “On this International Migrants Day, I urge all Member States who have not done so to sign and ratify the Convention, and in any event to provide all migrants with the rights and protection they need and deserve.”

Only 34 States have so far ratified the treaty that entered into force in 2003 after being adopted by the General Assembly in 1990. Mr. Annan noted that migrants from the developing world sent back to their families last year an estimated $167 billion, easily exceeding the total of international aid.

His appeal for an end to the abuse of migrants was echoed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. “The reality for many migrants is one of exploitation, exclusion, discrimination, abuse and violence amounting to widespread human rights violations. They frequently find themselves accepting dangerous or unhealthy employment with few avenues to seek redress when abuses occur,” she said in a message.

“Organized crime and smuggling networks target irregular migrants and lead them into such high-risk situations as perilous border crossings and trafficking. The news media is full of stories of migrants perishing at sea, suffocating in cargo holds or being subjected to rape and abuse while in transit.

“This must change. We must spare no effort to eradicate human trafficking, protect those who may fall prey to smugglers and hold those profiting from human misery accountable for their crimes,” she added.

Noting that about half of all migrants are women, UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, called for policies and laws to promote and protect their human rights.

The independent Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on the Human Rights of Migrants, Jorge Bustamante, and the Chairperson of the Committee on Migrant Workers, Prasad Kariyawasam, also issued a joint statement calling for states to ratify the Convention

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