Human rights in transit and at international borders

Many migrants in transit are in a precarious — even perilous — human rights situation. Even as technological advances have made travel faster and safer, for many migrants compelled to move the journey is often long, dangerous and even multi-directional. Some never reach their intended destination.

Migrants in transit risk a range of human rights violations, including because they have become destitute or “stranded” in the transit country and because they lack legal protection and are unable or unwilling to seek the protection of the country of transit. Migrant women in transit often face specific gendered forms of discrimination and abuse, and children can be particularly at risk, whether they are travelling on their own or with their families or caregivers. States have obligations under international law to address the dangers and risks faced by migrants in transit, but lack of regular migration pathways, coupled with harsh, security-driven migration policies and xenophobic rhetoric often operate to aggravate these risks rather than mitigating them.

Arrival at an international border does not put an end to the human rights risks that migrants face. At land, sea and air borders around the world, migrants experience human rights protection gaps, including unlawful profiling, torture and ill-treatment, gender-based violence, dangerous interception practices, and prolonged or arbitrary detention.

International borders are not zones of exclusion or exception for human rights obligations. States have the prerogative to govern migration within their jurisdiction, but they must do so in conformity with their human rights obligations. This means that the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their nationality, migration status, how they arrive at the border, where they come from or what they look like, are entitled to enjoy their human rights. Specifically, it means that on arrival, every individual regardless of status has the right to an individual assessment of protection needs, and the prohibitions of collective expulsions and refoulement must be scrupulously upheld for everyone. It also means that no one should be subjected to arbitrary detention, discriminatory decision-making, and that specific attention must be paid to migrants in vulnerable situations.

OHCHR has developed Recommended principles and guidelines on human rights at international borders. These are intended to translate the international human rights framework into practical border governance measures. Underpinning this guidance, is the belief that respecting the human rights of all migrants, facilitates effective border governance.

OHCHR continuously monitors the human rights situations of migrants at borders and in transit, and provides technical advice to States and other seeking to implement human rights-based migration and border governance policies.. 

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