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Combating Discrimination against Migrants

The Durban Declaration pointed out that xenophobia against non-nationals, and in particular, migrants, constitutes one of the main sources of contemporary racism. Migrants are often discriminated against in housing, education, health, work or social security. It is a global issue affecting the countries of origin, the countries of transit and the countries of arrival. According to the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, around 200 million people live outside their country of origin, which will amount to 3.1% of the world population in 2010. Estimates showed that between 1945 and 1990, the number of migrants increased by around 45 million people per year.

Migrants arriving irregularly in a new country and victims of trafficking stopped by the police are often detained in administrative centers or in prisons. Although the deprivation of liberty should be a last resort under international human rights law, migrants are often detained as a routine procedure and without proper judicial safeguards. Overcrowded immigration detention centers often have poor access to healthcare, inadequate food, sanitation or safe drinking water and a lack of separate sanitation facilities for men and women. Equally, there is an increasing tendency to criminalize migration offenses, which has, in some cases, resulted in violations of migrants’ rights.

Today, one of the key obstacles hindering migrants’ integration and equal access to human rights in host societies is persistent anti-migrant sentiments and discriminatory practices. Such sentiments and practices are often reinforced by legislation, regulations and policies to restrict migratory flows, as evidenced by the increasing tendency to criminalize irregular migration. The global economic crisis and rising unemployment have further aggravated these trends. Addressing negative perceptions of migrants within host communities is therefore a key element of promoting their integration and enhancing their contribution to development. Various international instruments, and in particular, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, address the issue of discrimination and provide guidance on human rights safeguards. Special Procedures, treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review mechanism have also addressed these issues.

Activities of the UN human rights office

  • Identifies the protection of human rights in the context of migration and the elimination of discrimination as two of its core strategic thematic priorities for 2010-2011.

  • Supports the activities of human rights treaty bodies which monitor the implementation of the core human rights treaties, some of which play a key role in combating migrants' discrimination, such as the Committee on Migrants Workers, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Office assists the independent Special Procedures mechanisms of the Human Rights Council to address either country situations or global thematic issues. Several thematic special procedures play a role in combating discrimination against migrants, such as the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; as well as the Special Procedures working to protect human rights while countering terrorism; on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; on freedom of religion or belief; on violence against women, its causes and consequences; on extreme poverty; on the right to education; on contemporary forms of slavery and on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. 

  • Services intergovernmental activities and expert mechanisms where discrimination against migrants is addressed, such as the Durban Review Conference and related processes. 

  • Aims at building national capacity to eliminate migration-related discrimination through advisory services, research and analysis, raising awareness and mobilizing support for anti-discrimination measures - such as legislation, policies and programmes - and engages with the wider community forging partnerships in this field.

  • Advocates for the protection of human rights throughout the migration process, including through coordinated action and cooperation within the Global Migration Group, a UN coordination body on migration related issues.