On International Day, UN officials call for protecting dignity and rights of migrants

18 December 2008 – Top United Nations officials are marking International Migrants Day by stressing the need to ensure the dignity and human rights of the more than 200 million people worldwide who cross borders to live and work, and who make a vital contribution to their societies.

“To save migrants from abuse, and allow them to contribute to development in their home and receiving countries, we must acknowledge them as human beings whose rights, like those of everyone else, must be protected,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated in his message for the Day, observed annually on 18 December.

Mr. Ban noted that this year’s commemoration coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with its “visionary commitment to dignity and justice for everyone, everywhere, always.

“We can only fully give meaning to the Declaration if we recognize that regardless of an individual’s immigration status, fundamental human rights are non-negotiable and the treatment of migrants, regular and irregular alike, must always conform to international standards.”

Likewise, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stressed that all migrants everywhere have the right to dignity and justice, just like anyone else, and called on all States to adhere to the International Convention on the Protection of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families – the most comprehensive global framework on the issue.

“Migrants are still discriminated against in an unacceptable manner in almost all societies, and are usually subject to working conditions and pay far below the standards enjoyed by citizens. Migrants are consistently denied entitlements to social security or housing, and excluded from employment and other opportunities,” she said in her message.

“In short, it seems that States, while depending on their labour for a wide range of services, are still content to treat migrants as second class human beings,” she added.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres noted that international migration enables people to improve their lives, as well as fill gaps in labour markets and provide billions to developing countries through remittances.

However, migration also has a “darker side,” especially when people move because they are escaping intolerable conditions at home and they do not have the proper paperwork to enable them to migrate in a safe and legal manner, leading to abuse and exploitation.

The High Commissioner called on the world to “remember that all migrants, irrespective of their motivation for moving and their legal status, enjoy the protection of the core international human rights treaties.”

In an address to a panel held at UN Headquarters in New York to mark the Day, General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto stressed that the world’s 200 million migrants “must not only be protected, but given every opportunity to integrate themselves into the communities where they have settled and participate meaningfully in the economic, social and cultural lives of their adopted homes.

“We must ensure that their voices are heard at the national and international levels as well,” he added, in a message delivered on his behalf by Bolivia’s Ambassador and Assembly Vice-President, Hugo Siles Alvarado.

Two independent UN human rights experts are marking the Day by drawing special attention to the many children whose lives are affected by migration, particularly those who migrate on their own separated from parents and other adults taking care of them.

These children are at greater risk for trafficking and various forms of exploitation, and are often discriminated against and denied access to food, shelter, health and education services, according to a statement issued by the Chairperson of the Committee on Migrant Workers, Abdelhamid El Jamri, and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante.

They added that children of migrants who move with their parents to live in another country also face many obstacles, including social stigma and discrimination.

“We would like to hereby stress that each child of a migrant worker, irrespective of the migratory status of their parents, has the right of access to education and urgent medical care on the basis of equality of treatment with the nationals of the State concerned,” they stated.

Also on the occasion of the Day, the top UN envoy to Iraq has reiterated his concern over the situation of over 1,000 foreign workers, some of whom have already been repatriated, brought by international contractors to Iraq and kept without job guarantees in warehouses near Baghdad’s international airports, without minimum respect for international labour standards.

“I am deeply troubled about the plight of those stranded in difficult conditions – some of whom are living in cardboard boxes in freezing night-time temperatures – and whose expectations, as they have been promised, for decent jobs have so far been shattered,” said Staffan de Mistura.

He voiced his support for the steps already taken by those concerned and encouraged additional concrete measures to swiftly alleviate the plight of those affected.


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