All countries must protect the human rights of the tens of millions of migrants worldwide who lack proper legal status and are thus more likely to face abuse, prolonged detention and ill-treatment, enslavement, rape or even murder, a United Nations-backed group warned today.
“Too often, States have addressed irregular migration solely through the lens of sovereignty, border security or law enforcement, sometimes driven by hostile domestic constituencies,” the Global Migration Group (GMG) said in a statement adopted at the end of a meeting in Geneva that noted that children are particularly vulnerable.
“Although States have legitimate interests in securing their borders and exercising immigration controls, such concerns cannot, and indeed, as a matter of international law do not, trump the obligations of the State to respect the internationally guaranteed rights of all persons, to protect those rights against abuses, and to fulfil the rights necessary for them to enjoy a life of dignity and security.”
The GMG, comprising 12 UN agencies, the World Bank, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), stressed that everybody, regardless of migration status, enjoys the fundamental rights to life, liberty and security, freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention, asylum from persecution, and protection from discrimination based on race, sex, language, religion, national or social origin, or other status.
Other fundamental rights include protection from abuse, exploitation, slavery, involuntary servitude, torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the rights to a fair trial and legal redress, to health, an adequate standard of living, social security, adequate housing, education, and just and favourable conditions of work.
“Protecting these rights is not only a legal obligation, it is also a matter of public interest and intrinsically linked to human development,” the GMG said, calling on States to review the situation of migrants in an irregular situation within their territories and ensure that their laws and regulations conform with applicable international human rights standards.
Noting the difficulties many States face, it stressed its readiness to support them to ensure effective implementation of appropriate legislation, including through capacity development and called on States, civil society, the private sector, media and host communities to tackle the demand side of trafficking and exploitation, actively combat xenophobia, racism and incitement to discrimination in national politics and discourse and promote tolerant societies.
It pledged to continue supporting efforts to address the root causes of irregular migration by promoting social and economic development to reduce migration pressures and expand channels for regular migration and supporting efforts to prevent human trafficking.
Outlining the hazards on the road of irregular migration, the GMG painted a grim picture of exclusion, exploitation and abuse at all stages of the process. “They often face prolonged detention or ill-treatment, and in some cases enslavement, rape or even murder,” it said. “They are more likely to be targeted by xenophobes and racists, victimized by unscrupulous employers and sexual predators, and can easily fall prey to criminal traffickers and smugglers.
“Rendered vulnerable by their irregular status, these men, women and children are often afraid or unable to seek protection and relief from the authorities of countries of origin, transit or destination.”
It stressed that children, especially those unaccompanied and separated, are particularly at risk, being banned from classrooms or denied their fundamental rights, even as their parents work and contribute to the economies of host countries and thus help raise standards of living.
Female migrants face greater risk of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence, HIV transmission, and specific challenges in access to employment and reproductive health care, it added, noting that people who leave their own countries because their lives and liberty are at risk are often forced to move in an irregular manner and find it increasingly difficult to seek and obtain refugee status.