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Migration and Human Rights

People on the move

Migrant workers weed a basil field in Illinois, the United States © KEYSTONE/LANDOV/ANTONIO PEREZAn estimated 232 million people currently live outside their country of origin, many having moved for a variety of reasons in which the search for protection and the search for opportunity are inextricably entwined.

Migration affects every region of the world, and many countries are now simultaneously countries of origin, destination and transit. Large numbers of migrants today move between developing countries, and around 40 percent of the total global migrant population have moved to a neighbouring country within their region of origin. 

Migrants are often to be found working in jobs that are dirty, dangerous and degrading (the 3 Ds). While for some migration is a positive and empowering experience, far too many migrants have to endure human rights violations, discrimination, and exploitation.

Contributions of migrants

Yet, migrants contribute to economic growth and human development in both home and host countries and enrich societies through cultural diversity, fostering understanding and respect among peoples, cultures and societies. Migration is also an important means for migrants and their families to improve life conditions and realize their human rights.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has made promoting and protecting the human rights of all migrants a priority of the work of her office (OHCHR). “The protection of migrants is an urgent and growing human rights challenge. Governments have obligations to ensure that xenophobic violence, racism and related intolerance against migrants and their communities have no place in their societies,” she says.

Human rights violations against migrants, including denial of access to fundamental economic and social rights such as the right to education or the right to health, are often closely linked to discriminatory laws and practice, and to deep-seated attitudes of prejudice and xenophobia against migrants.

A human rights approach to migration

A human rights approach to migration places the migrant at the centre of migration policies and management, and pays particular attention to the situation of marginalised and disadvantaged groups of migrants. Such an approach will also ensure that migrants are included in relevant national action plans and strategies, such as plans on the provision of public housing or national strategies to combat racism and xenophobia.

Human rights mechanisms, such as the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and the Committee on Migrant Workers, have been clear in stating that although countries have a sovereign right to determine conditions of entry and stay in their territories, they also have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all individuals under their jurisdiction, regardless of their nationality or origin and regardless of their immigration status.

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