Government policies on migration should place people at centre – UN human rights chief

Migrant workers in India cook a meal. Photo: World Bank/Curt Carnemark

4 September 2013 – With more than 215 million migrants around the world, the top United Nations human rights official today reminded Governments that migration is fundamentally about people, and called for the creation of human rights-based policies to more effectively address the issue.

Speaking to a meeting of experts on migrations organized by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) in Geneva, Navi Pillay said that migration is fundamentally a human process and not merely an anonymous ‘mega-trend,’ nor an economic and political phenomenon.

“It is my belief that as human mobility becomes more complex, the journeys taken by many migrants more perilous, and the situation in which they live and work more precarious, the need to base policy responses to migration on human rights standards becomes ever more important,” Ms. Pillay said.

She urged a lesser focus on statistics – such as the flows and waves of migration of migration – and more on the individual human rights and situations of migrants themselves.

Ms. Pillay noted that if all migrants came together to form a country, it would be the fifth most populous on the planet, yet they remain “largely invisible,” defined only in terms of what they can deliver for others, and not as individuals entitled to the full range of human rights.

“At its heart, migration is fundamentally about human beings,” she said.

Offering examples of human rights-based programming on migration, she said States must enact legislation and put in place a full range of facilities to ensure migrant have access to health care.

Migrant women who fear domestic violence would be able to have access to justice without fear of deportation, and policy-makers would be obliged to consult migrants about decisions that directly affect them, such as plans on the provision of public housing or national strategies to combat racism and xenophobia.

Coinciding with today’s meeting, OHCHR released its ‘Improving human rights-based governance of international migration’ report.

A lack of an inclusive, participatory and accountable global dialogue on migration and human rights is an important governance gap, the UN agency reported.

It also highlighted the need to create a UN-mandated multi-stakeholder standing body which would comprehensively address all aspects of migration, and provide space for stakeholders to discuss the promotion and protection of the rights of migrants.

Such a body would examine, for example, issues such as the human rights of smuggled migrants; the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers; and access by irregular migrants to essential services such as health and education.

Next month, the UN General Assembly in New York will host a two-day global summit on migration and development beginning on 3 October.

This second high-level dialogue will aim to identifying concrete measures to strengthen coherence and cooperation at all levels, with a view to enhancing the benefits of international migration for migrants and countries alike and its important link to development, while reducing its negative impacts, according to OHCHR’s website.

Also addressing the meeting in Geneva, the Special Rapporteur on migrants, François Crépeau said the lack of understanding about the human rights of migrants, and particularly the fact that irregular migrants also have rights, makes them an increasingly vulnerable group to hate speech and hate crimes.

Mr. Crépeau called for human rights to be a “core component” of all the discussions at the dialogue in New York and he supported greater involvement of the UN in the global debate on migration.


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