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Durban Review Conference Opening remarks by the HC/OHCHR Senior Advisor on Migration at the Parallel Event on Migration, Discrimination and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

On behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, I am very pleased to open this panel discussion today. I would like to thank the partners that joined OHCHR in the organization of this event, namely the International Labour Organisation, the International Organisation for Migration, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  I also wish to extend a warm welcome to our panelists today: the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the Chair of the Committee on Migrant Workers, and the representatives of ILO, UNHCR and IOM and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM).

This panel provides an important opportunity to discuss the multiple links between migration, discrimination and the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. 

Let me begin by noting that States have an obligation to protect the human rights of all individuals within their jurisdiction, including all migrants, irrespective of their immigration status. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) highlighted the importance of creating conditions conducive to greater harmony, tolerance and respect between migrants and the rest of society in host countries.  It also recognized that xenophobia against non-nationals, particularly migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, constitutes one of the main sources of contemporary racism. Crucially, the DDPA emphasized that human rights violations against members of such groups are widely perpetrated as a result of discriminatory, xenophobic and racist practices.  Mr. Bustamante and Mr. El Jamri will illustrate that human rights mechanisms amply documented these abuses and the conditions that foster them.

Respect for the human rights of migrants is not only a legal obligation. It is also critical to ensure that migration is a choice and an opportunity rather than a survival strategy. Moreover, respect for the human rights of migrants is essential to improve the integration of migrants in countries of destination.

When looking at the underlying causes of migration in countries of origin, the so-called push-factors, my Office has highlighted the need to go beyond economics and its emphasis on income poverty.  Rather, we must  seek a deeper understanding of, and remedies for, human poverty by keeping into sharp focus how a lack of health care, scarcity of food, obstacles to education, and inequality of opportunities, including gender discrimination, affect migratory flows. Policies that promote development and respect for all human rights without discrimination help to make migration a matter of pondered choice rather than exclusively one of impellent necessity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In host societies, migrants often have to confront multiple forms of discrimination in many aspects of their daily lives, including exclusion from decision-making and legal recourse. Specific laws discriminating - or allowing for discriminatory practices - against non-nationals, along with programmes and policies that fail to address the specific needs and vulnerabilities of migrants, often result in migrants and their families being unable to access basic services or secure them only at levels that do not meet international human rights standards.

A lack of official status may expose migrants in an irregular situation and their families to unfair labour practices and harsh abuse related to the workplace.  Furthermore, such precarious conditions may preclude their access to adequate housing, health or education. A failure to specifically protect migrant women fosters an environment where exploitation and violence can easily take place and go unreported or unpunished. 

Often, fear of retribution or repatriation excludes migrants in irregular situations from seeking justice even in the face of vicious, pervasive, and sustained human rights violations. 

When the economic, social and cultural rights of migrants are ignored or curtailed in host societies, their capacity to contribute to the development of their countries of origin is also undermined.  If migrants have no secure legal status, if they are not integrated in the formal labour market or do not get an education of quality, it is more likely that their resources will be largely absorbed by their own daily survival needs. This also affects the positive impact that disposable income or savings in the form of remittances have on the general welfare of the families they have left behind.

Dear Colleagues,
Conditions of detention of migrants also severely affect their economic, social and cultural rights. Overcrowded immigration detention centres, which can be found in all parts of the world, are often characterized by a lack of access to healthcare, adequate food, sanitation or safe drinking water, education and vocational training. Such factors make their detention conditions even more punishing than those of many convicted criminals.

Recent attempts by some States to criminalize irregular migration, making the irregular entry into or overstaying in a country an offence, lead to unnecessary detention with grave consequences for the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights just described. Also, criminalization of migration - at times accompanied by the imposition of a duty to report on a number of professionals - can further hamper access to, inter alia, education and health for fear of being denounced, imprisoned and ultimately deported.

As the global financial meltdown becomes a protracted and diffuse economic crisis, a rise in xenophobia, anti-migrants sentiment and discriminatory practices is likely to affect the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights of migrants. Migrant workers - those documented as well as those in an irregular situation - will, and in some cases already are, the first ones to lose their jobs.  They are usually employed in sectors that are either structurally more exposed to the vagaries of market forces, or that are more directly affected in times of crisis. In a context of growing unemployment accompanied by shrinking States’ resources, policy adjustments, such as cutbacks in spending in the health, education and social protection sectors, might be taken at the expense of, or have a disproportionate impact on, migrant workers and their families. 

In light of these considerations, I urge States to uphold their legal obligations to protect and promote the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, of all individuals under their jurisdiction.  Such protection is particularly crucial during an economic crisis that has the potential of exacerbating or igniting discrimination and xenophobia.

I hope that our panel will identify challenges as well as good practices and set the basis for a continued dialogue on how to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights of migrants and their families.

I wish you a productive discussion.  Thank you for your attention.