UN official denounces mistreatment of migrants and urges respect for their rights

23 July 2010

Migrants continue to endure multiple forms of discrimination, exploitation and other violations of human rights, a senior United Nations official has said, calling for their protection and social inclusion in communities where they live.

“Violations of economic, social and cultural rights are daily experiences for countless migrants who are denied, often, access to public health care, adequate housing and essential social security,” said Ivan Šimonovic, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, when he presented a report on the rights of migrants to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in New York yesterday.

He said that while migration has been beneficial to some of the estimated 214 million people living outside their countries of origin, for many others, it remained a painful experience. Denial of rights was often exacerbated by discriminatory laws, prejudice and xenophobia, Mr. Šimonovic added.

He said regular or undocumented migrants of all ages were often subject to debt bondage, passport retention, illegal confinement, rape and physical assault, while their abusers were not brought to justice. Migrants often refrained from using public services such as emergency health care even when they were entitled to them for fear of detention and deportation, he added.

Mr. Šimonovic cited the right to adequate housing as one of the key entitlements denied to migrants. “Domestic migrant workers have been forced to sleep in hallways or closets and to remain on duty 24 hours a day with little privacy. In some cases, they can be subjected to physical, psychological and sexual violence,” he said.

Ensuring access of migrants to economic, social and cultural rights should be seen as a requirement under international human rights law and not an act of charity, Mr. Šimonovic said.

“Migrants are entitled to have their human rights respected, protected and fulfilled wherever they are, regardless of their legal status. Such protection is an indispensable precondition for their social inclusion and integration, which, in turn, enables migrants to lead economically productive and culturally and socially enriching lives,” Mr. Šimonovic said.

An international agreement to protect migrant workers and their families was adopted in 1990. Some 43 countries have ratified the agreement to date.

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