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Human Rights Council holds panel discussion on technical cooperation to promote and protect the rights of all migrants

MIDDAY
 
GENEVA (22 March 2016) - The Human Rights Council during its noon meeting held a panel discussion on technical cooperation and capacity building to promote and protect the rights of all migrants, including women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities.
 
Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the sudden increase in large scale migratory movements across the world made human rights technical cooperation and guidance on migration governance absolutely vital.  Human rights based approaches to migration governance helped reduce human suffering.  It was important to ensure particular scrutiny of the situation of migrants, particularly children, who might be in specific circumstances of vulnerability.
 
Thani Thongphakdi, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva, moderator of the discussion, stated that the complex relationship between migration and human rights was multifaceted and it was found at all stages in the migratory cycle.  More than 10 million people were forced to migrate to escape violence, persecution, natural disasters, poverty and hunger.  The mixed migration phenomenon was complicated by the fact that economic migrants and asylum seeking refugees often travelled together. 
 
Peggy Hicks, Director of the Research and Rights for Development Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that there were three obstacles to building stronger protection for the rights of migrants: the pernicious influence of misconceptions, the analysis and practical guidance gap, and the need to include migrants in shaping responses and to increase understanding of migrants’ needs.  The Council had a vital role to play in bringing the rights of migrants from the margins to the mainstream.
 
Kristina Touzenis, Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration, stressed that the discussion needed to start with the sound legal basis that international actors were bound by the treaties which they had signed or ratified.  Any discussion of “deserving” of protection implied an opposite “underserving”, which went fundamentally against the values and principles of not only human rights but also the concept of humanity.  Prohibitive measures, closed borders and fences would only feed the smuggling market.
 
Paola Cogliandro, Deputy Head of the Office for Migration Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, noted that the right balance among national security, socio-economic growth and human rights had to be found while enacting national migration policies.  She referred to a project launched by Italy called the “humanitarian corridor”, which was a resettlement and humanitarian admission programme aimed at helping refugees and vulnerable migrants who were in neighbouring host countries to be resettled with the support of private citizens and faith based groups. 
 
Phusit Prakongsai, Director of the Bureau of International Health at the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand, informed that migrants in Thailand were protected by the social security scheme and the compulsory migrant health insurance.  Unawareness of migrants about their rights was one of the factors which needed to be addressed.  Some of the main challenges included the lack of policy coherence among different ministries, and the fragmentation and inaccuracy of the existing data on migrants.
 
Yasmina Antonia Filali, President of Fondation Orient-Occident, Morocco, presented her foundation’s work with migrants in Morocco, noting that highlighting the intercultural aspect of migration was at the centre of her work.  It was possible to communicate a strong message against exclusion through various cultural activities with migrants.  In that way the foundation had managed to change migration policies in Morocco for the better.
 
In the ensuing discussion speakers underlined the importance of combatting trafficking in migrants, particularly women and children, and of training and awareness raising for civil servants in host and transit countries.  They also highlighted the importance of technical assistance and capacity building in the field of human rights, and of strengthened partnerships and synergies allowing the sharing of good practices.  All countries should adopt an open and inclusive approach to migration, which was a driving force for economic growth and development.
 
Speaking were Dominican Republic on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Kuwait on behalf of the Arab Group, European Union, Qatar, China, United States, Ecuador, Paraguay, Greece, Germany, Egypt, Morocco, Venezuela, Indonesia, Switzerland, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Chile, Viet Nam, Belarus, Brazil, Sweden, Colombia, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Myanmar, Peru, Ghana, and Philippines.
 
Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Human Rights Watch, International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales y Corporación Humanas, Arab Commission for Human Rights, and International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
 
The Council is holding a full day of meetings today.  At 3 p.m., it will continue the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi, and then hold an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on capacity building and technical cooperation with Côte d’Ivoire in the field of human rights, followed by an interactive dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine.
 
Opening Statement
 
KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the High Commissioner was strongly committed to assisting States to promote human rights norms and standards in practical ways that improved lives.  The goal of the Office’s technical cooperation was to help Governments, their institutions and civil society increase knowledge, boost dialogue, sharpen skills and build up capacity to uphold human rights.  The sudden increase in large-scale migratory movements across the world made human rights technical cooperation and guidance on migration governance absolutely vital.  Human rights based approaches to migration governance helped reduce human suffering.  It was important to ensure particular scrutiny of the situation of migrants who might be in specific circumstances of vulnerability.  Children could be at special risk, which was why the Office had called for child protection systems, rather than immigration enforcement policies, to govern the treatment of child migrants, regardless of their status. 
 
Ms. Gilmore said that the Office’s activities also included technical advice on strengthening institutions, legislation, policies and practices so that they complied with international human rights laws and standards.  Awareness raising initiatives had included targeted campaigns on the rights of migrants in irregular situations and migrant domestic workers, whose rights were too often ignored.  The Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders set out practical measures in a number of areas.  Ms. Gilmore emphasized the importance of data and informed about the development of indicators on the human rights of migrants.  The 2030 Agenda committed the international community to ensuring safe, orderly and regular migration that fully respected human rights, regardless of migration status.  The Office would continue to work closely with the Global Migration Group, Quartet and civil society partners.  Migration belonged at the core of many of the Council’s discussions. 
 
Statements by the Moderator and Panellists
 
THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva, moderating the panel, stated that international migration was a growing phenomenon, with approximately 244 million people, or 3 per cent of the world’s population, currently living outside their countries of origin.  The complex relationship between migration and human rights was multifaceted and it was found at all stages in the migratory cycle.  More than 10 million people were forced to migrate annually to escape violence, persecution, natural disasters, poverty and hunger.  The mixed migration phenomenon was complicated by the fact that economic migrants and asylum seeking refugees often travelled together.  Many of those irregular migrants should be accorded necessary assistance based on humanitarian principles.  However, often they would fall prey to trafficking and other forms of human rights abuse.  The panel would review the progress made in protecting the rights of irregular and regular migrants, exploring ways to further integrate human rights into national and international migration governance, and exchanging ideas on how to enhance technical assistance and capacity building programmes in order to help advance the rights of migrants.
 
PEGGY HICKS, Director of the Research and Rights for Development Division at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that migration was not unwelcome as a whole.  Migration was a key contributor to economies and societies.  There were three obstacles to building stronger protection for the rights of migrants: the pernicious influence of misconceptions, the analysis and practical guidance gap, and the need to include migrants in shaping responses and to increase understanding of migrants’ needs.  First, unfounded myths and stereotypes sometimes stood in the way of effective responses.  To address that challenge the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had developed evidence-based responses that broke down myths that surrounded migration.  Second, State responses to migrant issues were undermined by both an inadequate understanding of the rights gaps faced by migrants and of the practical steps that could be taken by States to address those concerns.  Third, robust technical cooperation work required an understanding of the situations facing the women, men and children affected by migration.  A human rights based approach was migrant centred and focused on ensuring the participation of migrants.  The Human Rights Council had a vital role to play in ensuring that human rights law guided the response of transit and host countries to the growing numbers of people migrating, from immediate reception to longer term integration, bringing the rights of migrants from the margins to the mainstream.
 
KRISTINA TOUZENIS, Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration, stressed that rights were due to migrants, and could be found in a number of international treaties.  Their implementation might be progressive in some cases.  The discussion needed to start with the sound legal basis that international actors were bound by the treaties which they had signed or ratified.  Any discussion of “deserving” of protection implied an opposite “underserving”, which went fundamentally against the values and principles of not only human rights but also the concept of humanity.  Prohibitive measures, closed borders and fences would only feed the smuggling market, effectively losing control of who entered and who stayed, while endangering lives in the process.  Instead, the rights of migrants should be taken as a central concern.  The erosion of the rights of people who were effectively under our jurisdiction could not be simply observed.  Not all migrants were forced to move by conflict or persecution, but if they had no livelihood or no prospects, then their decision process might not be entirely based on a “voluntary” choice to move along and try something better.  Respect for and enforcement of rights for everyone was at times portrayed as opposed to security and to law enforcement.  The reality of the matter, however, was that law enforcement was supposed to protect the rights of all, and, if that was not done, the rule of law, as well as law and order, were being undermined.  
 
PAOLA COGLIANDRO, Deputy Head of the Office for Migration Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, spoke about finding the right balance between national security, socio-economic growth and human rights while enacting national migration policies.  She referred to a project launched by Italy called the “humanitarian corridor”, which was a resettlement and humanitarian admission programme aimed at helping refugees and vulnerable migrants who were in neighbouring host countries to be resettled with the support of private citizens and faith based groups linked to different religions.  This project encompassed all the principles that should guide migration policies.  It was a concrete expression of solidarity and burden sharing between Italy and neighbouring countries.  It offered vulnerable migrants, including children and women, resettlement in Italy with basic health and education services and livelihood opportunities.  These people were flown to Italy in a secure and legal way, thus avoiding the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean and breaking down the “business model” of smugglers and traffickers.  Beneficiaries were security screened before departure.  The civil society sector played an important role in welcoming beneficiaries and in building a counter narrative depicting migrants for what they were: human beings in need. 
 
PHUSIT PRAKONGSAI, Director of the Bureau of International Health at the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand, informed that Thailand, as an upper-middle income country, attracted millions of permanent and temporary migrant workers, both documented and undocumented, from four neighbouring countries.  There was an estimated 4.2 million non-Thai citizens living in Thailand.  Contributions from migrants to the Thai economy were estimated at around $ 2 billion per annum.  Migrants in Thailand were protected by the social security scheme and the compulsory migrant health insurance.  Unawareness of migrants about their rights was one of the factors which needed to be addressed.  Some of the main challenges included the lack of policy coherence among different Ministries, and the fragmentation and inaccuracy of the existing data on migrants.  Migrants were still largely seen as an additional burden and workload for the health system.  Mr. Prakongsai emphasized the three inter-related principles and integrated strategic approaches used in Thailand: 1) migrants had the right to health; 2) good public health outcomes at individual and community levels ought to be maintained; and 3) achieving the better health and sustainable development for all, with healthy migrants leading to a healthy Thailand. 
 
YASMINA ANTONIA FILALI, President of Fondation Orient-Occident, Morocco, explained that the work of her foundation was organized around territorial development in Morocco and working with migrants from the sub-Saharan region.  The foundation had created the first reception centre on the Moroccan territory, welcoming between 800 and 1,000 migrants each year.  The centre dealt with the issue of migration by highlighting its intercultural aspect.  How to change the image of migrants in society?  It was possible to communicate a strong message through various cultural activities, such as dance and visual arts.  Another example was the workshop “Migrants of the World”, carried out with female migrants.  Each migrant was given an opportunity to showcase their skills.  Those examples had bolstered the idea that migrants could integrate into society, as well as that women could be empowered.  The influence of cultural activities had enabled the organization to highlight the culture of the other and to promote the rights of migrants.  It was a way to send a strong message against exclusion.  The foundation had thus participated in changing the migration policies of the Moroccan State, which had resulted in 2012 in securing migrants the right to health, accommodation and employment.
 
Discussion
 
Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, underlined the importance of combatting trafficking in migrants, particularly women and children, and of training and awareness raising for civil servants in host and transit countries.  Kuwait, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, underscored the importance of technical assistance and capacity building in the field of human rights, and of strengthened partnerships and synergies allowing the sharing of good practices.  European Unioncalled for coordinated gender-sensitive responses to the migration crisis, and informed that it had allocated additional funding for the resettlement of migrants.  The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights would provide support to projects aimed at protecting the rights of migrants.  Qatarsaid that unaccompanied children, women and persons with disabilities should be the first to be protected and provided with services.  Qatar had implemented initiatives to help refugees and asylum seekers, including education services to young Syrians.  Chinasaid that all countries should adopt an open and inclusive approach to migration, which was a driving force for economic growth and development.  China had taken measures to promote tolerance to migrants and social harmony, but opposed any form of illegal migration.  United Stateshighlighted the “Migrant in Countries in Crisis Initiative”, led by the Philippines and the United States, which sought to develop a set of non-binding principles to improve preparedness and better protect migrants caught in countries experiencing conflict or disaster.  
 
Ecuadorsaid that unfortunately migration had often become a synonym for suffering and persecution.  Since 2007, Ecuador’s policies had focused on the well-being of the population, including the migrants.  Many Ecuadorians who had had to leave the country had since returned, and the country had accepted tens of thousands of refugees.  Paraguay, which had more than two million citizens living in other countries, agreed that regional technical cooperation was of high importance.  Specialized refugee commissions of MERCOSUR countries regularly met with the view of creating a sub-regional strategy. Greecestressed that the refugee crisis in Europe surpassed the capacities of individual countries and had to be dealt with collectively and in a coordinated way.  Greece would work closely with Turkey in a constructive manner with a view to achieving immediate and tangible results.  Germanysaid that the phenomenon of migration and forced displacement necessitated a range of differentiated measures.  Beyond emergency and immediate relief activities, there was a need for long-term transitional aid programmes and strategic support for host countries.  Egyptstated that different parts of the human rights system could contribute to strengthening technical cooperation and building capacities between countries.  That was particularly important in countries with significant needs, while politicization ought to be avoided.  Moroccosaid today it was a country of emigration, transit and immigration, and had adopted an ambitious policy based on the respect of human rights in the area of migration.  In 2014, Morocco had put into place a programme for regularizing persons with irregular status.
 
Human Rights Watchwelcomed the panellists’ views on what type of mechanism for implementation and follow-up could best ensure that the Council brought sustained and dedicated attention to the issues under discussion.  International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rightsspoke about Denmark’s recently approved law which allowed authorities to confiscate asylum seekers’ valuables, and vigorously called on Danish authorities to abolish it.  Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales Asociación Civil, in a joint statement with Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Generourged States and the Special Rapporteur on migrants to support Argentina’s reform and also support the reform seen in Brazil and Chile which could result in models which were fairer and more just.
 
Responses from the Moderator and Panellists
 
THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva, moderating the discussion, asked the panellists what should be the role of the Human Rights Council in addressing the weakest members and those most at risk, also asking whether other mechanisms should be established.
 
KRISTINA TOUZENIS, Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration, noted that many had mentioned the special needs of particular groups, but underlined that whereas there was no doubt that many fell into categories that required specific protection, the general human being could become vulnerable and at risk.  Irregular migration was opposed because it was bad for States, the labour market, and individuals who were forced to migrate in that way.  Migration, which might be a law enforcement concern, was not a security concern, she said, underlining the need to protect the rights of individuals.  The discourse had to be framed, as it was a labour issue, a social rights issue, and an issue of how the international community could have longer term solutions.
 
PAOLA COGLIANDRO, Deputy Head of the Office for Migration Policy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, stressed the need for adopting long-term solutions to the migrant crisis. 
 
PHUSIT PRAKONGSAI, Director of the Bureau of International Health at the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand, said that the perspective on migrants had to be changed and encouraged efforts to underline the positive impact of migration on economic growth and development. 
 
PEGGY HICKS, Director of the Research and Right to Development Division at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed the importance of investing in policies relating to migration now, instead of paying more later.  She also stressed the importance of bringing migrants’ stories into discussions.  She called for more data collection, which would help better address the problem.  The Council needed to work on push factors for migration, she said, emphasizing the importance of protecting civil society space.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was providing technical guidance to States, and was promoting detention as a last resort, as well as the principle of the best interest of the child. 
 
YASMINA ANTONIA FILALI, President of the Fondation Orient-Occident in Morocco, encouraged those active on the ground to set aside money specifically to help address the issue of unaccompanied migrant children. 
 
Discussion
 
Venezuelasaid that the primary victims of violence and conflict were women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.  Priority should be given to solidarity between States concerned.  Measures should be taken to increase and strengthen cooperation and technical assistance, which was what Venezuela was doing.  Indonesiasaid the promotion and protection of the rights of migrant workers were among its priorities.  Indonesia was particularly committed to strengthening bilateral and multilateral cooperation, and expanding its umbrella of protection.  Special attention was paid to the families of migrants.  Switzerlandstated that questions related to migration and forced displacement were among the largest global challenges in the decades to come.  Switzerland was convinced that no State alone could respond to the challenges of international migration. Turkeybelieved that the success of efforts to overcome the current migration crisis depended on effective burden- and responsibility-sharing.  A sustainable solution required a shared international responsibility on the basis of increased humanitarian aid, refugee settlement and other forms of humanitarian admission.  Kyrgyzstanconcurred that migrants were often deprived of their fundamental rights in countries of destination.  There was a particular risk for women and children and other vulnerable groups.  Comprehensive approaches were needed at all levels, with special attention given to migrant workers.  Chilesaid that it had undertaken a commitment to receive migrants and refugees, primarily from South America.  Chile had adopted different administrative measures to ensure the rights of migrant populations on equal footing with the rights of the local population. 
 
Viet Namsaid it was very important to foster constructive dialogue between countries of origin and destination to promote legal migration channels, and States should raise awareness of international legal instruments that protected migrants.  Belarussaid that the migration situation was of concern, noting that vulnerable groups were facing human trafficking, and adding that the Office of the High Commissioner should continue its work in countering human trafficking, which ought to include support for regional groups.  Brazilspoke about national policies regarding migrants and asylum seekers, noting that since 2013, Brazilian consulates had issued visas to 8,000 people affected by the Syrian conflict.  Swedensaid a worrying gap between human rights commitments and national migration policies could be seen in a number of places, noting that Sweden had witnessed an unprecedented increase in the number of asylum seekers equal to 1.6 per cent of the country’s entire population.  Colombiasaid that in addressing the current migratory crisis, problems should be resolved through dialogue and with public policies focused on human rights, also asking the panel how multilateral cooperation could be strengthened.  Algeriasaid there was a close link between migration flows and the economic situation which prevailed in countries of origin, adding that respect for human rights should be at the heart of States’ priorities.
 
Arab Commission for Human Rightswas worried about the fact that countries of the European Union and the United States had not signed the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, and expressed concern about the mistreatment of migrants, including women and children.  International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination stressed the need for technical assistance in the fields of education and housing. 
 
Libyasaid its security situation had deteriorated because of terrorist groups, which had contributed to increased migration, and called for international support and cooperation focusing on development.  Burkina Fasostressed the need to deal with the underlying causes of migration, and emphasized the importance of international cooperation for the protection of the rights of the most vulnerable.  Sudanreaffirmed the importance of technical assistance, transparency and non-politicization in the field of human rights.  Myanmarhad been giving serious attention to combatting irregular migration and trafficking, and highlighted the importance of international cooperation to combat related transnational crime.  Perusaid that it placed the human being at the centre of its migration policy.  It had created a working group, which had adopted guidelines for migratory policies.  Ghanaemphasized that migrant children were particularly vulnerable, and described policies it was implementing to ensure that the rights of children were protected.  Philippinespointed out the particular vulnerability of migrant women to trafficking, exploitation and violence, and advocated for the principle of shared responsibility of countries of origin and destination for the promotion and protection of human rights.  
 
Concluding Remarks
 
THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Genevaand moderator of the panel, presented the panellists with questions on the issue of data collection and indicators and benchmarks, and also on how to promote increased recognition of migrants’ positive contributions to receiving States, as well as questions on how to promote a protective framework for migrants, and how best to protect the rights of children.
 
KRISTINA TOUZENIS, Head of the International Migration Law Unit at the International Organization for Migration, said it was not a question of sharing the burden but sharing the responsibility.  For migration to be a choice, the international community needed to attain a certain level of human rights protection around the world, and the world was far from that.  It was important never to link development aid and the right to development, so that helping countries of origin was not a way to avoid obligations toward people who would want to migrate.  Anyone could one day become a migrant, she said, adding that she hoped the issue of migration would be kept on the agenda of the Council.
 
THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Genevaand moderator of the panel, added another question to the list he had already presented to the panellists, namely how a human rights approach to border governance could be pursued.
 
PAOLA COGLIANDRO, Deputy Head of the Office for Migration Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, said it was possible to fight xenophobia through the involvement of civil society.  People’s need for security could not be undermined.
 
PHUSIT PRAKONGSAI, Director of the Bureau of International Health at the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand, said that data on migrants was very important for monitoring progress on migrant policy.  Data in many developing countries was still fragmented and not timely.  More investment was needed from international development panels to monitor the real situation and progress.  Support was expressed for recommendations for a system to foster constructive dialogue, promote legal channels and enhance policymaking.
 
PEGGY HICKS, Director of the Research and Rights for Development Division at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that positive experiences needed to be promoted.  On data and indicators, a nuance to the question was the use of innovative data collection techniques.  Regarding the importance of ratification, that was an important step in the right direction, but the importance was not seeing the Convention in isolation.  The international community also had to implement a broader range of obligations.
 
YASMINA ANTONIA FILALI, President of Fondation Orient-Occident, Morocco, said that it was indeed true that civil society had a different view of migration, noting that civil society was a fragile entity and so being able to work in concert with intergovernmental organizations would help.
 
THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Genevaand moderator of the panel, said there was a need to change the narrative on migrants.  More evidence-based information was needed, he said, giving some national examples.  Migrants had rights that States had an obligation to protect.  Human rights were not a matter of choice but a legal obligation.  A rights-based approach was necessary, he said, adding that there was a requirement for a long-term solution, as well as a continued need to give attention to the issue by the Human Rights Council.

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