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A human rights approach to global migration governance

Millions of migrants worldwide are particularly vulnerable to the rise of xenophobia and discriminatory practices amid the current global economic crisis. A human rights approach to global migration governance is needed to protect the rights of all migrants and their families. 

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) under Sudan’s Government of National Unity, and United Nations Joint Plan for Returns, departed Khartoum for Yambio in Western Equatoria via Juba, carrying nearly 100 IDPs. UNMIS Photo/Fred NoyThe scale of international migration has substantially increased in recent years and become a truly global phenomenon. It is estimated that more than 200 million people now live outside their country of origin. 

“Respect for the human rights of migrants is not only a legal obligation. It is also critical to ensure that migration is a choice and an opportunity rather than a survival strategy,” Ngonlardje Kabra Mbaijol, the Special Advisor to the High Commissioner, speaking on behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a panel on “migration, discrimination, economic, social and cultural rights” on the sideline of the Durban Review Conference.

“Moreover, respect for the human rights of migrants is essential to improve the integration of migrants in countries of destination,” he said.

Combating racism against migrants was one of the issues addressed by the Review Conference. Issues related to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights are particularly crucial for many migrants. Very often, they are confronted with severe discrimination in housing, education, health, work or social security.

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) in 2001 highlighted the importance of creating conditions conducive to greater harmony, tolerance and respect between migrants and the rest of society in host countries.

In addition, the outcome document of the Durban Review Conference urges states to adopt and enforce legislation to protect migrant domestic workers, regardless of their immigration status, and to adopt a comprehensive and balanced approach to migration.

“As the global financial meltdown becomes a protracted and diffuse economic crisis, a rise in xenophobia, anti-migrants sentiment and discriminatory practices is likely to affect the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights of migrants,” said Mbaijol.

“Migrant workers - those documented as well as those in an irregular situation - will, and in some cases already are, the first ones to lose their jobs. They are usually employed in sectors that are either structurally more exposed to the vagaries of market forces, or that are more directly affected in times of crisis.”

He urged governments to uphold their legal obligations to protect human rights of migrants under their jurisdiction.

Jillyane Redpath-Cross, Senior Legal Officer of the International Migration Law and Legal Affairs Division, International Organization for Migration, said there was no shortage of instruments whose provisions guarantee human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights to migrants.

“The challenge is to give practical expression to these rights and to make them a reality in the daily lives of migrants, and in the interaction between migrants and communities,” she said.

Jorge Bustamante, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, drew attention to the fact that xenophobic and racist attacks on migrants are often a response to a distorted perception, at times fomented by the media, of the scope of irregular migration and its consequences for the host societies.

Mbaijol added that: “Such protection is particularly crucial during an economic crisis that has the potential of exacerbating or igniting discrimination and xenophobia.”

April 2009