UN calls for protection of migrants’ human rights regardless of legal status

18 December 2007

United Nations officials today called on all countries to protect the human rights of the world’s 200 million migrants, regardless of their legal status, stressing that they provide vital services to the States where they live, yet often face abuse, discrimination and even violence in return.

“Millions of migrants provide essential services to the economies and societies of the countries they live in while supporting their families and communities back home, where remittances boost the national economy,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in message marking International Migrants Day, in which he called on all States to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

“Unfortunately, migrants rarely receive recognition for their contributions. Instead, they often contend with abuses and discrimination ranging from the absence of protection mechanisms to discriminatory national legislation. In extreme cases, they are victims of racist or xenophobic attacks,” he added, noting that only 37 countries had so far ratified the treaty.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour underscored the primacy of migrants’ human rights over their legal status. “It is particularly important to recall that all migrants, irrespective of their legal status, enjoy the protection of international human rights standards laid down in human rights instruments,” she said in a message, condemning working conditions that amount to modern forms of slavery.

“Irregular migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to all kinds of abuses, as their irregular status exposes them to a wide range of abuses and violations. Their children are often at risk, deprived of access to schools or health care facilities. Violations committed by private individuals often go unpunished when committed against irregular migrants.”

Calling on all countries to ratify the International Convention, she highlighted abuses facing migrant workers: long working hours, payment of salaries well below minimum wage established by law, exposure to degrading and dangerous working conditions and confiscation of travel documents.

“They often face restrictions on access to health care and are at times deprived of the right to marry. They suffer from restrictive policies that limit family reunification,” she added. Yet today’s economies could barely function without their contribution.

Two independent UN experts called for the decriminalization of irregular or undocumented entry into a country. “Any migrant worker detained in a State of transit or in a State of employment for violations of provisions relating to migration should always be separated from convicted persons or persons detained pending criminal trial,” said Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants Jorge Bustamante and the Chairman of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, Prasad Kariyawasam.

The two emphasized the hardships faced by irregular migrant women, often exposed to all sort of abuses by their employers, including sexual harassment and physical violence, yet denied legal protection and access to effective remedies because of their status.

“Women migrant workers in domestic service should have access to mechanisms for bringing complaints against their employers and all abuses, including sexual abuses, should be investigated and punished,” they said.

They also called on Member States to ensure access to education for all migrant children irrespective of their migratory status and to intensify their efforts to prevent these children from falling victim to any kind of exploitation, and notably economic or sexual exploitation.

 

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