Press Conference on Human Rights of Migrant Workers

22 October 2010

Press Conference on Human Rights of Migrant Workers

22 October 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Human Rights of Migrant Workers


The inadequate and often appalling housing conditions faced by millions of international migrant workers around the world were largely due to discriminatory practices that could only be remedied through a human rights-based approach, the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing said today at a Headquarters press conference.

“Today, most of the 200 million international migrants are not enjoying their right to adequate housing,” said Raquel Rolnik, who was joined at the press conference by Abdelhamid El Jamri, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.  Earlier in the day, both speakers had addressed the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).  (See press release GA/SHC/3986)

Ms. Rolnik said that through her country visits, work and research, she recalled seeing migrant workers sleeping in metal containers with no electricity and water, and women that were forced to sleep in bathrooms, kitchens or closets, and often subject to sexual harassment, domestic violence and forced confinement.

She went on to say that most migrants lived in unplanned settlements, either within the city or on the outskirts, because it was impossible for them to receive public housing or they were discriminated against in the private market as renters or possible buyers.

Despite human rights laws that protect the right to adequate housing of international migrants, many Governments considered migration a security issue to be handled by law enforcement and not through human rights principles, she said. 

States, however, had no justification for not protecting the vulnerable groups, she said.  She also expressed concern that migrant workers were also the victims of forced eviction in the context of urban renewal programmes, and highlighted that in many European countries, the dismantling of illegal travellers and Roma had rendered hundreds or thousands homeless.  As a remedy, States should match deliberation of housing with adoption of special policies that could address the particular housing problems, she said.

Mr. El Jamri said that the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which was enacted on 1 July 2003, sought to play a role in preventing and eliminating the exploitation of migrant workers, as well as ensuring the protection of their human rights throughout the entire migration process. 

That Convention also provided a set of binding international standards to address the treatment, welfare and human rights of both documented and undocumented migrants, as well as the obligations and responsibilities on the part of sending and receiving States, as well as States of transit.  To date, he said 43 States had ratified the treaty; however, he regretted that no country of receipt had yet ratified the Convention.

Still, the Committee, which monitored implementation of the Convention, had made great strides this year.  It had identified a new dynamic that would move from an economic dimension to a more rights-oriented approach in the protection of migrant workers.  In addition to periodic reports, the Committee had engaged in theme-oriented dialogue on various issues, for example, the right to housing and the protection of migrant children.  He added that the Committee was also actively promoting ratification of the Convention, which was now celebrating its twentieth year, and had support from non-governmental organizations and other international organizations.

In response to a question regarding the oil rich Arabian Gulf nations, where migrant construction workers hired to build the cities make up a majority of the population, Ms. Rolnik noted the paradox of globalization.  “If you go there and see the incredible scenery of the new trendy city and then go to the neighbourhood where the migrant workers live, it is clear picture of discrimination,” she said.

Mr. El Jamri added that the model of migration in that region was unique in the sense that multinational companies had also brought in their own workers.  Ensuring their rights would require a stronger protection system within country of origin, he said, citing a system in the Philippines that monitored the recruitment process of the workers. 

In response to a question on actions being taken regarding forced evictions, Ms. Rolnik said migrant communities were particularly vulnerable to this kind of eviction without resettlement options and stressed it was the number one issue of the mandate. 

When asked about recommendations concerning the treatment of migrant workers in the United States, Mr. El Jamri said since 11 September 2001, the law that had transferred power to the immigration judge was “worrisome”.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.