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International Migrants’ Day – Friday 18 December 2015

GENEVA (15 December 2015) – Ahead of International Migrants’ Day, a group of United Nations experts* on the rights of migrants have called on Governments across the world to guarantee access to services for all migrants, regardless of their migratory status.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, and the Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Francisco Carrión Mena, urged States to separate immigration enforcement from access to public services through the implementation of ‘firewalls’, while stressing that large-scale migration is unavoidable and that human rights are for all.

“Equality and non-discrimination are the basis of States’ human rights obligations. By upholding these principles, Governments acknowledge that human rights are for all, and that migrants should be treated as equal rights holders.

Migrants, have - among other things - the right to health, education, housing and decent work, as well as labour rights, regardless of their migratory status in relation to the territory they find themselves in. However, all too often they face unsurmountable obstacles in the form of immigration enforcement policies.

‘Firewalls’ must be developed between immigration enforcement and public services. Public service officials should be able to perform their important social missions without interference from anyone.

All migrants, regardless of their status, must be able to seek access to justice and to social services such as health care, education, police, social services, public housing, labour inspectors and other public service agents, without fear of being denounced to immigration enforcement authorities, detained and deported.

Without such firewalls, migrants will never report human rights violations and perpetrators will benefit from practical immunity.

Newly arrived migrants face a variety of challenges in accessing public services, such as health care or housing, given their limited command of the language of the host State, and their lack of knowledge of the laws and systems in the host countries. The enjoyment of these rights by migrants is effectively hampered in the absence of necessary support, such as the provision of language training, or free information on relevant laws and regulations.

The right to health is an example where migrants may be more exposed to poor health by virtue of their often low socioeconomic status, the sometimes harrowing process of migration, and the precariousness of their condition as non-nationals in the new country. Access to health care for migrants and the level of such care varies enormously, depending on the State in focus, as well as on immigration status.

The mental health of migrants is an issue of concern, as factors such as human rights violations before or during the migration process, social isolation caused by separation from family and social networks, job insecurity, difficult living conditions, detention, and exploitative treatment, could have very adverse effects.

Female migrant workers engaged in domestic services are in one of the most precarious situations as migrant workers. There appears to be a widespread pattern of physical, sexual and psychological abuse of migrant domestic workers, and they are also often exposed to health and safety threats without being provided with adequate information about risks and precautions. Migrant women and girls also often experience more problematic pregnancies and gynecological health issues, when compared to the host population.

Migrant children, whether these children are in a regular or irregular situation, accompanied or unaccompanied, are also a vulnerable group. Inadequate care has long-lasting consequences on a child’s development. As well, the constraints on the rights of adult migrants immediately have an adverse impact on the rights and development of their children. For this reason, access to health care for all migrant children, whatever their status, should be an urgent priority.

Migrants must be viewed as equal rights holders, and States have a duty to protect them at all stages of the migration process. If violations of these rights occur at any point, as equal rights holders, all migrants must have access to justice and to an effective remedy.

We all know that migrants can play an active role in the social and economic development of host countries, particularly when their fundamental rights, such as the rights to health, education, adequate housing, and their labour rights, are fulfilled in a manner that ensures equal opportunities and gender equity.

We need to see migrants as partners in our collective development. We should harness the agency, energy, imagination and resilience they have demonstrated throughout the migration process, and offer them a place in our societies that is devoid of legal, economic and social precariousness.”

About the Migrant Workers Convention
The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 18 December 1990. It establishes, in certain areas, the principle of equality of treatment with nationals for all migrant workers and their families, regardless of their legal status. It set forth, for the first time, internationally uniform definitions agreed upon by States for different categories of migrant workers. It also obliged sending, transit and receiving States parties to institute protective action on behalf of migrant workers. Check the Convention: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CMW.aspx

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Migration/SRMigrants/Pages/SRMigrantsIndex.aspx
The UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CMW/Pages/CMWIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Elizabeth Wabuge (+41 22 917 9138 / ewabuge@ohchr.org)

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