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Human Rights Council holds enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights of migrants

AFTERNOON

15 June 2015

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights of migrants.

In his opening statement, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed his growing alarm at the failure of the international community to protect the rights of migrants, who in their search for safety and opportunity were too often met with more exploitation, discrimination and violence, coupled with harshly enforced refusals to permit entry. The death-toll of migrants in the Mediterranean was a cause for profound alarm: it demonstrated conclusively that militarised deterrence and enforcement policies would fail and that if no other option was available, they would brave terrible peril to seek safety for themselves and their children. The High Commissioner welcomed the European Union’s recent determination to tackle migration in a more comprehensive manner, and the newly intensified search and rescue effort in the Mediterranean, noting that far bolder steps were needed to integrate the notion that the European Union needed and should welcome more migration at all skill-levels. The only effective approach to migration must be grounded in the human rights of the people concerned, focusing on root causes and long-term solutions.

Gilbert Houngbo, Deputy Director General for Field Operations and Partnerships of the International Labour Organization, said migration was a global issue, and that closing borders was not a solution. He underlined the importance of coordinated action among countries, including countries of origin, of destination and of transit.

Laura Thompson, Deputy Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, noted that Governments had the sovereign right to decide who could enter their country, but requirements had to be implemented in full respect for human rights. There was no one solution on how to deal with migration, but it was necessary to take the suffering of migrants into account.

Carol Batchelor, Director for the Division of International Protection at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, underlined that saving lives had to be a priority irrespective of whether people travelled irregularly or regularly. Migrants faced various human rights violations and were preyed upon by smugglers. All stakeholders had to work in tandem to address the issues of migrants and their plight.

François Crépeau, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, noted that repressive policies failed to deter irregular migration because mobility was an inescapable consequence of globalization and migrants would come anyway due to violence, natural disasters, extreme poverty, war, conflict or persecution. States needed to reclaim the mobility market by offering better mobility options than what the smugglers were offering.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers stressed that saving lives was the first priority in addressing the alarming cost of human lives in migratory flows. They concurred that the root causes of migration had to be investigated, including socio-economic and political conditions in the countries of origin. Speakers also noted that migration should be regarded as an opportunity rather than economic cost, considering that migrants brought in certain skills that could be beneficial for the local economy. All speakers agreed that the tackling of irregular migratory flows required long-term strategies rather than short-sighted policies, such as closing down of borders.

In concluding remarks, Flavia Pensieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the very large number of interventions by Member States proved that there existed a great concern about the migration issue. The issue of migration should be therefore discussed from a rights-based perspective, and its root causes had to be investigated. Criminalization of migrants should be discouraged, as well as flawed assumption about migration, such as that migration was a cost for receiving countries. Migration had to be addressed in line with the principles of solidarity and comprehension.

Taking the floor in the enhanced dialogue were: European Union, Algeria, Russian Federation, Australia, Holy See, Belgium, India, Costa Rica, Namibia, Argentina, Sweden, Italy, Nepal, Tunisia, Ecuador, Sierra Leone, Egypt, Malaysia, Cuba, Switzerland, Senegal, United Nations Children’s Fund, Republic of Korea, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Bulgaria, Monaco, Brazil, Bangladesh, South Africa, Niger, Cyprus, Turkey, Libya, Serbia, Malta, Spain, United States, Pakistan, Georgia, Albania, Thailand, Mexico, New Zealand, Greece, Iraq, Algeria, Indonesia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, France, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Ghana, Myanmar, Austria, Norway, Montenegro, Qatar, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, El Salvador, Panama, Dominican Republic and Portugal.

The following civil society organizations also spoke: Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development, Save the Children International, Centre for Legal and Social Studies, Sudwind, Human Rights Watch and Rencontre africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme.

During its evening session, the Council will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on the human rights of migrants, and on minority issues.

Opening Statements

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed his growing alarm at the failure of the international community to protect the rights of migrants, who in their search for safety and opportunity were too often met with more exploitation, discrimination and violence, coupled with harshly enforced refusals to permit entry. The death-toll of migrants in the Mediterranean was a cause for profound alarm: it demonstrated conclusively that militarised deterrence and enforcement policies would fail and that if no other option was available, they would brave terrible peril to seek safety for themselves and their children. High Commissioner Zeid welcomed the European Union’s recent determination to tackle migration in a more comprehensive manner, and the newly intensified search and rescue efforts in the Mediterranean, and said that far bolder steps were needed to integrate the notion that the European Union needed and should welcome more migration at all skill-levels. It was well within the European Union’s means to give refuge, over a number of years, to one million refugees displaced by the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere. This would represent barely 0.2 per cent of the European Union's population – compared to Lebanon, which had taken in 26 per cent of its population in refugees. The resources currently deployed for ineffective border control systems could instead be invested in maximizing the benefit of regular migration channels. For many years, people had been fleeing persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh, notably via trafficking and smuggling rings. Mass graves had been discovered last month in Thailand and Malaysia, containing the bodies of presumed victims of human trafficking and smuggling gangs; most of these victims were said to have been Rohingya from Myanmar, who were denied citizenship and suffered a pattern of persecution which was considered to be a driver of the Rohingya exodus.

Australia’s response to migrant arrivals had set a poor benchmark for its regional neighbours and it did not permit entry to even recognized refugees in urgent need of protection, but had set up relocation arrangements with countries that may be ill-prepared to offer them any durable solution. Many on the unaccompanied children who had crossed into the United States last year were fleeing uncontrolled violence by criminal gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as deprivation, social exclusion and discrimination. The response in the form of the increasing militarization of Mexico’s southern borders was not accompanied by improvements in the countries of origin regarding the conditions which pushed them to migrate. The United States maintained the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world, at a cost of some $2 billion per year; alternatives to detention were urgently needed, and the High Commissioner stressed that in particular, the detention of children based on their migrant status constituted a violation of the rights of the child. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council benefited massively from the contributions of migrant workers, and yet there were pervasive violations of their rights in several countries, including physical abuse and there was frequently no effective mechanism where abused migrants could seek redress. The Kafala sponsorship system, which enabled multiple abuses of migrants' human rights and labour rights, should be repealed as a matter of urgency, and private recruitment agencies should be properly regulated.

The High Commissioner said he was deeply concerned about recent violence in South Africa, in which seven people were killed, hundreds injured and thousands displaced, adding that xenophobic attacks, including hate speech that incited violence and intolerance, merited public condemnation and prosecution. He was also concerned about plans to expel large numbers of undocumented Haitians from the Dominican Republic. The only effective approach to migration must be grounded in the human rights of the people concerned, focusing on root causes – including in countries of origin and transit – and long-term solutions. With so many countries locked in internal conflict, from Syria and Iraq to Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Mali, the task of re-establishing peace, justice and the rule of law was increasingly urgent. Conflict was not the only driver of migration, said the High Commissioner, noting that numerous Eritreans were fleeing their country, including large numbers of unaccompanied minors. The Human Rights Council should consider convening Special Sessions on migration issues in the future, and it was vital that States addressed, both singly and together, the economic despair that drove so many to risk death to escape the prison of their poverty.

GILBERT HOUNGBO, Deputy Director General for Field Operations and Partnerships, International Labour Organization, said migration was a global issue, and that closing borders was not an answer. He underlined the importance of coordinated actions among countries, including countries of origin, of destination and of transit. The International Labour Organization was also concerned about abuses against seasonal migrant workers. Another critical issue was the risk for migration to be translated in increased child labour or child trafficking. The International Labour Organization would be launching an event later in June on how to minimize the risk for such abuses to take place.

LAURA THOMPSON, Deputy Director-General, International Organization for Migration, said the human rights of a person did not depend on this person’s location and on whether or not this person was a regular or irregular migrant. Governments had the sovereign right to decide who entered their country, but requirements had to be implemented in full respect for human rights. It was sometimes extremely complex to distinguish between categories of migrants. There was no one solution on how to deal with migration, but it was necessary to take the suffering of migrants into account. The first issue was to save the lives of migrants at risk. Addressing the root causes of migration was also key. This included preventing conflicts and addressing extreme poverty.

CAROL BATCHELOR, Director of the Division of International Protection at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), underlined that saving lives had to be the priority irrespective of whether people travelled irregularly or regularly. Migrants faced various human rights violations and were preyed upon by smugglers. Violence and conflict forced them to flee and look for better livelihood elsewhere. All State holders had to work in tandem to address the issues of migrants and their plight. States had an obligation towards those seeking asylum and to uphold the principle of non-refoulement. While some States welcomed thousands of refugees, others demonstrated that much needed to be accomplished in the protection and sheltering of migrants. Receiving and protecting was critical, but solution and prevention was much preferred. The dialogue on the protection of the human rights of migrants would thus be focused on root causes of migration. Sadly, the statistics released by UNHCR this year would be the worst in human history. Thus, cooperation was key in addressing the issue of migration.

FRANÇOIS CRÉPEAU, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, noted that migrants were not just numbers, but human beings with rights. Migrants often had very few options and had to migrate in order to survive. They believed that they were taking flight to find protection against violence, or a job to support their families. Repressive policies failed to deter irregular migration because hope was always stronger. Sealing borders did not work because mobility was an inescapable consequence of globalization and migrants would come anyway due to violence, natural disasters, extreme poverty, war, conflict or persecution. States needed to reclaim the mobility market by offering better mobility options than what the smugglers were offering. States should adapt their policies to the facts and recognize that it was much better to create systems that incentivized people to abide by the rules, rather than systems that drove people to evade the rules. Accordingly, the Special Rapporteur would propose to the European Union to choose mobility over closure in its migration policy framework.

Discussion

European Union was firmly committed to the promotion of the human rights of migrants and said that the immediate priority must be saving lives. A comprehensive approach consistent with international human rights law must address the root causes of migration. Algeria said that migration was a complex issue which some viewed as a threat. The international community must address root causes and consequences of migration, save lives and provide assistance to those lucky enough to arrive to their destination. Russia said that the situation on the south European coasts was the result of irresponsible European interference in internal affairs of some countries in Africa. Russia believed it was important to consider the reasons behind this migration. Australia said that the priority was the protection of lives at sea. Unscrupulous and criminal behaviour that undermined peoples’ right to protection and dignity must be met with a firm response. Australia took strong issue with the High Commissioner’s assessment of Australia’s policy and attitude towards irregular maritime arrivals.

Holy See said a long range immigration strategy was still lacking, and suggested that rescue operations be strengthened, resettlement policies be increased, and efforts be made to protect migrants’ rights and acknowledge the contribution of migrants to economic growth. Belgium said migrants were often exploited and expressed concern about recent deaths at sea. Belgium supported a number of partner countries in strengthening asylum systems, and was active in terms of alternatives to detention, particularly for unaccompanied minors. India was deeply concerned about the inhumane treatment of migrants by smuggling groups, and called for a holistic response to the increased number of deaths at sea. India said challenges had to be addressed in countries of destination and origin, including racism and discrimination. Costa Rica noted with concern the alarming number of deaths in the Mediterranean, and was concerned that the increased number of crises would lead to increased migration. Smugglers and traffickers had to be combatted, and appropriate resources had to be allocated to protecting the rights of migrants.

Namibia noted that the root causes of migration lay in insufficient economic development because people sought their livelihood elsewhere, warning that such a situation was the breeding ground for various criminal groups. Argentina underlined the need to move from a border and security approach in dealing with migrants to one that stressed human rights. Promoting adequate socio-economic conditions was vital in dealing with migration. Sweden said the recent developments in the Mediterranean highlighted the need for the international community to share the responsibility in welcoming migrants, who could bring knowledge and skills to the countries receiving them. Italy called for a new approach to the issue of migration, based on cooperation and solidarity among the countries of origin, transit and destination.

Nepal said that there was more international migration today than ever before and expressed concern about the exploitation of migrant workers. Nepal was focusing on improving domestic labour legislation and better protecting labour migrants abroad, and was drafting a policy on safe migration. Tunisia said that absolute priority must be given to saving the lives of migrants and to protecting their rights. Countries of origin, transit and destination must cooperate more closely in seeking global and multi-dimensional issues, and the international community must address root causes of migration. Ecuador said that 3,000 migrants had died in the Mediterranean, and asked who was responsible for those deaths and if the international community was going to seek out the perpetrators of human trafficking and disband the criminal bands of smugglers. Sierra Leone stressed the need for a proper analysis of the problem to better understand the issues and said that smugglers must be brought to justice. Immediate and long-term root causes of people seeking out illegal services of traffickers must be addressed, such as visa regimes of many Western countries.

Egypt said migration was a positive phenomenon that should be promoted and dealt with in a holistic approach and with full respect for human rights. Joint management included capacity building and northern States accepting more migrants. Efforts to address the root causes of migration had to be respectful of States’ sovereignty. Malaysia said finding a long-term solution to the issue of migration would require a holistic approach and include States of origin, transit and destination. Malaysia had been sheltering migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar. The solution to this problem was to tackle the root causes of migration. Cuba underlined the importance of addressing the root causes of migration, without selectivity, by strengthening the right to development. Selective migration stripped developing countries from intellectual resources. Switzerland said migrants’ movements had become more and more complex over recent years, and their vulnerability had increased. A long-term vision looking at the root causes of migration was needed, and efforts had to be made to better protect the rights of migrant workers and their families.

Senegal recalled that in 2014-2015, some 24,000 migrants died, mainly at sea. It was important to take stock of persons fleeing conflict and persecution, and to provide them with new livelihood prospects. UNICEF warned of the negative effects of detention of children, stressing that detention of children should be used only as a measure of last resort, and only to help them. UNICEF noted that the migration agenda was an opportunity for the European Union to apply its values. Republic of Korea noted that the tragedy of migrants at sea required the coordinated approach of key stakeholders, including the countries of origin and the countries of destination. Organization of Islamic Conference noted that Governments had the responsibility to protect migrants in accordance with international human rights law, and to address the migration issue in a comprehensive way, by dealing with root causes of migration.

Bulgaria said that increased migration and refugee flows, people smuggling and associated human rights abuses were global phenomena and required global responses. The situations in Syria and Iraq were of particular concern, and Bulgaria empathized with neighbouring countries which shouldered the refugee burden. Monaco said that most migrants faced a number of risks and dangers, and were often victims of smugglers who abused their vulnerable situation. Countries must ensure that migration took place in safe circumstances. Brazil said that the international community must prioritize the humanitarian dimension of migration, strengthen the humanitarian component of its responses and shift the response to migration from security to human rights fields. Philippines said that migration was not only a human rights but a social and humanitarian concern that must be addressed appropriately. Responses based solely on the grounds of border control and national security led to human rights violations; migrants stranded at sea must be considered as victims and not criminals.

Bangladesh said that as long as the international community failed to find a solution to the root causes of migration, smugglers would continue to abuse migrants. The issue had to be addressed in a cooperative and holistic manner, through international cooperation. South Africa said it had taken a decision to integrate migrants in its society, and had taken measures to address intolerance against them. Migration systems were key to fostering development. Niger said the complexities and gaps involved when it came to migration deserved the international community’s immediate attention. People would continue to seek a better life elsewhere, and would continue to try to go to Europe. European countries should work closely with African countries of origin and transit. Sanctioning and restriction would not be productive. Cyprus said the immediate imperative was to save lives, and the migration phenomenon needed to be addressed in a comprehensive and cooperative manner, in full respect with human rights.

Turkey said that the recent migrant crisis had proved that taking a solely security approach was not appropriate and that the well-being and dignity of migrants must be considered, as well as addressing the push and pull factors of migration. Libya said that transit countries must secure their borders in order to curb illegal migratory flows. Serbia agreed that both the root causes of migration and its humanitarian consequences must be addressed, and that tackling organized crime, trafficking in organs, and prostitution were regional challenges which required coordination and solidarity. Malta said that it remained important to strengthen cooperation with countries of origin and transit and Malta would be hosting a summit later this year to strengthen cooperation with its African partners in this regard. Stabilizing Libya was a key step in preventing further migratory flows in the region.

Spain said migration was a global and complex phenomenon, and constituted both a source of opportunities and tragedies. Spain had been putting forward a strategy based on cooperation between countries of destination and of origin, including to combat human trafficking. United States supported efforts, including by the European Union and south-east Asian countries, to support safe and humane migration and to crackdown on traffickers. Vulnerable workers should not be dealt with like criminals. Pakistan underlined the importance of combatting racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, as migrants were often the first to suffer from these phenomena. Pakistan underlined the importance of giving due attention to the deaths at sea. Georgia said there was an urgent need to respond to the deaths at sea with a holistic solution, joint efforts and close cooperation. It was important to prevent the further loss of lives as a matter of priority, in cooperation with countries of destination and origin. Albania encouraged stronger and more integrated cooperation among Member States and partners of the European Union to address the issue of deaths of migrants at sea and to combat human trafficking.

Thailand said migrants in Thailand now had access to health care and education for their children. Thailand attached great importance to addressing the issue of migrants through a multi-actor, concerted approach and identifying durable solutions. Mexico said that multiple crises in recent times had shown the cross-cutting nature of migration. The focus in discussions on migration had moved from managing migration to more substantive issues, such as human development. New Zealand believed that a comprehensive approach was needed to address both push and pull factors which caused irregular migration. While challenges to the European Union from Mediterranean migrants were serious, the response had to be in line with international standards. Greece stated that a holistic approach to migration was needed more than ever. Greece was experiencing a huge influx of migrants, with an estimated 800 refugees expected to arrive every day in the summer. The protection of human rights was a cross-cutting issue, arising in all stages of human migration; shared responsibility was important.

Iraq said that recent migratory flows shed light on the obvious link between development and migration. Those links were complex and multi-dimensional. Every country was obliged to discourage discrimination of migrants. Algeria noted that the debate on the human rights of migrants should contribute to the reduction of differences in the perception of challenges with respect to human mobility, and to promote the kind of cooperation that respected the rights of migrants. Indonesia stressed the importance of investigating the root causes of irregular migratory flows, as well as of differentiating between persons fleeing conflict and war and those migrating for economic reasons.
Morocco underlined that the alarming human cost of migration was discerning. Saving lives should be the first priority in addressing the issue, followed by addressing the causes of migration and regulating them through laws.

Saudi Arabia said it had 10 million migrant workers in its territory, and that, in accordance with the Koran and Sharia law, their rights were protected without discrimination. France said migration was a global phenomenon that required a global approach. Closer cooperation between countries of destination and origin was needed, as well as a clear response to traffickers. Côte d’Ivoire underlined that although host States had the right to regulate migratory flows, the rights of all migrants, including regular and irregular migrants, and including children, had to be protected. China said countries should adopt a more positive attitude toward migration. China was concerned about the crisis of migrants in the Mediterranean.

Ghana shared the view that migrants were human beings, first and foremost. There could be no illegal human beings, so all migrants deserved a decent treatment. Illicit trafficking of undocumented migrants had to be seen for what it was – a contemporary form of slavery. Myanmar believed that the issue of the boat people was the issue of people smuggling and trafficking. Poor people who sought better livelihoods were often taken advantage of. In the absence of a regional mechanism to address this issue, such people were exploited by traffickers. Austria stated that migration affected every region of the world, and needed a comprehensive approach, which dealt with social, economic and security factors. Austria supported the multi-faceted approach currently promoted by the European Union. A common European resettlement scheme would be welcomed by Austria.
Norway was deeply concerned by the human rights situations many migrants in the Mediterranean and the Andean were facing. Concern for the individual migrant had to be at the centre of all efforts. Root causes of migration should be addressed in a comprehensive manner.

Montenegro noted that migrants at sea faced human rights violations and suffered different forms of discrimination even when they reached the country of destination safely. The complexity of the migration issue necessitated long-term strategies rather than short-sighted policies. Qatar, responding to allegations of negative treatment of migrant workers, noted that the contribution of migrant labour was recognized by Qatar’s Government. The Gulf countries had legislation that regulated the wages and other rights of migrants. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia said that the migration issue was the result of numerous conflicts and wars worldwide. Migratory flows in the Mediterranean Sea particularly highlighted the severity of the situation, which required comprehensive action.
El Salvador said it was first important to define a legal framework for the protection of the rights of migrants, which would be of a binding nature. The responsibility for migrants should be shared among countries, and it was thus important for the Council to hold a special session on migrants.

Panama agreed that migrants were human beings with human rights and were protected by international law on an equal basis with citizens. Despite the existing legal framework, migrants continued to suffer abuse and violence. Dominican Republic reiterated that the fears of widespread deportation of Haitians residing in the country were unfounded. The deportation process for irregular migrants would be done in accordance with due process and mass deportations would not happen. Portugal said saving lives must be a priority and search and rescue operations must be strengthened. There must be safe and regular channels for migration, in cooperation between the countries of origin, transit and destination.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development expressed concern about the situation of thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded at sea and stressed the importance of a long-term approach to address this crisis and its root causes. Save the Children International said that the rescue and protection of people in distress was a humanitarian imperative. The fight against smuggling and trafficking should not take precedence over humanitarian assistance. Around 11 million migrants were children between 15 and 19, whose protection had to be a priority. Centro des Estudios Legales y Sociales in a joint statement with Conectas Direitos Humanos said that this year, more than 1,500 persons had died while trying to cross the Mediterranean. It was worrying that the European Union was threatening to use military force against migrant boats. Similar practices were being used along the frontier between the United States and Mexico. Sudwind stated that Iranian refugees were traveling to Australia through Indonesia in the hope of a better life, but for even those who reached their destination, the integration process was a very challenging task. Human Rights Watch said it frequently heard the stories of human beings who were forced to migrate. Human rights abuses drove people from their homes in search of help and safety. States should ensure access to fair and efficient asylum procedures and respect the non-refoulement obligation. Rencontre africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme noted that it was utterly unacceptable that a growing number of young people from Africa were paying their life savings only to lose their lives trying to reach Western Europe. The absence of adequate responses to the calls of numerous human rights groups was disappointing.

Concluding Remarks

FLAVIA PENSIERI, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in concluding remarks that the very large number of interventions by Member States provided evidence that there existed a great concern about the migration issue. There was not a single voice that questioned the fact that migrants were human beings with rights. It was a moral imperative to recognize their human rights. The approach to the migration problem should be therefore rights-based and the root causes of migration had to be investigated. Strong search and rescue operations had to be used to help migrants. The criminalization of migrants was not welcome, as well as flawed assumptions about migration, such as that migration was a cost for receiving countries. Migration had to be dealt with based on the principle of solidarity and comprehension. The human rights of all migrants, documented or undocumented, had to be upheld.

GILBERT HOUNGBO, Deputy Director General for Field Operations and Partnerships, International Labour Organization, said in his concluding remarks that the International Labour Organization was perfectly prepared to work on the issue of labour migrants both with countries of transit and destination, to prevent their exploitation and abuse and to develop equitable migration policies.

LAURA THOMPSON, Deputy Director-General, International Organization for Migration, in her concluding remarks said that many delegations today agreed on the importance of saving lives and taking long-term measures to address the root causes of migration, including insecurity and political persecution. Many also recognized the need for regular channels of migration. Such a great level of agreement was an opportunity to move the discussion from a discussion on principles to a discussion on action and practical work.

CAROL BATCHELOR, Director for the Division of International Protection, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in her concluding comments said that it was important to see consolidation around the protection of human rights, the need for protection-sensitive entry mechanisms and for practical protection safeguards to be in place. It was important to communicate about migrants, but also to migrants so that they had the information to make appropriate decisions. When designing a solution or approach, it was important to look at the spectrum of reasons for migration or movement for each country because not all countries were created equal.

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