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Opening Remarks by Bacre Waly Ndiaye at the Expert Meeting Migration, Human Rights and Governance

20 June 2013

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you today to the Office of the High Commissioner for this human rights’ expert meeting on migration, human rights and governance.

Last December, the Secretary General’s Policy Committee, which is the highest decision-making body in the United Nations Secretariat, tasked OHCHR to prepare a concise analytical report on migration and human rights in order to promote a strong focus on the human rights of migrants in the lead-up to the 2013 High-Level Dialogue and beyond. The decision of the Policy Committee highlighted a growing consensus that bilateral, regional and international cooperation is an essential element in addressing contemporary migration, and in ensuring the protection of migrants’ rights.

During the next two days we hope to explore why it is crucial to embed the human rights framework and a human rights-based approach within the global institutional architecture on migration. We of course include in this analysis international labour standards and other relevant normative frameworks such as international refugee law.

Our starting point is that migration is not merely an economic or political phenomenon.

The phenomenon of migration is centred on the increasingly complex, and at times precarious, movement of more than 214 million human beings.

This is why our discussions today are more relevant and urgent than possibly at any time. As human mobility becomes more complex, the journeys taken by many migrants more perilous, and the situation in which they live and work more precarious, the need to refer to human rights standards and principles in policy responses to migration becomes ever more important. As the High Commissioner has previously stated; “Human rights are not a matter of charity, nor are they a reward for obeying immigration rules. Human rights are inalienable entitlements of every human being, wherever they are and whatever their status.”

Migration in the context of today’s globalizing world brings opportunities but also important challenges of vulnerability and discrimination. And while many migrants are able to live and work safely in their host countries, millions are less fortunate. If fundamental rights are not guaranteed, if migrants lack access to their human rights, such as health, education, housing, non-discrimination and equal treatment in employment, freedom of expression, freedom of association and access to justice, their ability to benefit from migration is compromised.

A glance at the state of the world’s migrants paints a grim picture. At this time of global financial crisis, measures are being taken that impact on the rights of the most vulnerable migrants; austerity measures that discriminate against migrant workers, xenophobic rhetoric that encourages violence against irregular migrants, and immigration enforcement laws that allow the police to profile migrants on the basis of race or religion. An increasing message of xenophobia has permeated both fringe and mainstream political movements in many countries and resulted in a climate of exclusion and rising violence against migrants. Migrants are criminalized and subject to harsh, even inhumane, penalties for doing nothing more than crossing a border or remaining in a country without administrative authorization.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The contemporary reality of migration also compels a coordinated and comprehensive approach. Today the motivations for movement are increasingly complex. Many migrants will be or may become vulnerable on more than one ground. Many may have suffered abuse of more than one type. Invariably, those who are victims of violence and trauma, in an irregular as well as in a poor situation, are more likely to be vulnerable to discrimination and marginalization. Migrants can pass through different legal categories during their journey, particularly when these journeys are long and hazardous.

At the same time, it is a fact that the legal and normative framework affecting international migrants cannot be found in a single instrument or mechanism. Contemporary migration is multi-faceted and multi-causal. It implicates the mandates of a wide variety of actors.

Cross-cutting issues in this regard include:

  • the interface between asylum and migration;
  • the human rights of smuggled migrants;
  • the exploitation of migrant workers;
  • the access of irregular migrants to essential services such as health and education;
  • the increased feminisation of migration entailing growing gender specific risks and
  • the situation of children in the context of migration.

We believe that the basis for a new consensus on migration lies in the human rights framework and the human rights-based approach.

Since its early beginnings, the UN has been concerned with the issue of international migration from a human rights perspective. Human rights, development, and peace and security are the three interlinked pillars of the UN system, and encouraging respect for human rights is a fundamental purpose of the United Nations under its Charter. The United Nations system, by virtue of its capacity to represent and support all Member States, can play an important role in demystifying migration and presenting a more accurate picture of contemporary mobility, elaborating and assisting in implementation of the human rights perspective on migration, and offering a space for dialogue and cooperation between states on migration and human rights issues.

We believe that we have today an opportunity to work collaboratively within the UN system, with the full participation of all stakeholders including migrants themselves, to conceive a common rights-based vision of the governance of migration.

In looking ahead to the High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in October 2013, we would like to encourage a reflection on ways in which to strengthen attention to the human rights of migrants within the governance of migration at the international level, recognising that this is a crucial step towards ensuring greater protection of their rights on the ground.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our research and consultations for the paper mandated by the Policy Committee tell us that there is a compelling argument for creating a comprehensive space on migration and human rights at the international level. The High-level Dialogue 2013 brings an opportunity for the international community to develop a forward-looking agenda on migration and human rights. We hope that the next two days will offer an imaginative space to explore the dimensions of such an agenda.
Thank you for your interest and active participation in our expert meeting. We look forward to hearing your reflections on this critical issue.

Thank you.