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27 March 2023
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families today opened its thirty-sixth session, during which it will consider periodic reports from Morocco, Nigeria, El Salvador and the Philippines.
During the meeting, the Committee heard an address from Andreas Ori, Chief, Groups in Focus Section, Human Rights Treaties Branch, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Representative of the Secretary-General; adopted its agenda and programme of work; and heard from national human rights institutions and non-governmental organisations on the situation of migrant workers in States under review.
Mr. Ori evoked an increasingly complicated landscape for migration which disproportionately affected women and children. Xenophobia against migrants, a convenient scapegoat for social and economic difficulties, was instrumentalised by politicians to win votes. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights worked to close the protection gap between human rights norms in international law and the many violations of them. The Training Guide issued by the High Commissioner with help from the Committee Secretariat, to be launched 4 April, was commendable, he said. He welcomed the Committee’s decision to elaborate a General Comment on the convergence of the Committee’s Convention and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Such complementary human rights instruments had to be implemented with synergy to protect the rights of all migrants. He wished the Committee a successful session.
Mr. Ori also announced that Sabrina Gahar of Algeria was appointed as a member of the Committee for a two-year term. Edgar Corzo Sosa, Committee Chair, provided updates on the Committee’s intersessional activities.
Next, the Committee held a dialogue with the national human rights institutions of Morocco, Niger and El Salvador, as well as representatives of civil society and non-governmental organisations of Morocco, the Philippines and Argentina.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 28 March, to begin its review of the second periodic report of Morocco (CMW/C/MAR/2).
ANDREA ORI, Chief, Groups in Focus Section, Human Rights Treaties Branch, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Representative of the Secretary-General, congratulated Sabrina Gahar, who was appointed on 31 January 2023 by the Government of Algeria as a member of the Committee, replacing Lazhar Soualem, who resigned effective 12 December 2023 as a member of the Committee. This brought the number of female Committee members to four. Mr. Ori noted with appreciation the Committee’s move toward gender parity, which was equally as important as geodiversity to the credibility of the treaty body system.
Raising concerns over the situation of women in migration, he said that more than half of the world’s 281 migrants were women and children and today’s populations of migrants were the youngest in the world. It was a crisis for families, parents and primary carers. People did not embark on perilous journeys by choice. Primary motivations for migration were economic, environmental, social, political and flight from conflict, or a combination of these factors. All these people needed the protection of international human rights law, as those in movement were at greater risk of violation of their human rights. They were disproportionately vulnerable to human rights abuses and violations, including discrimination, marginalisation, exploitation, violence and xenophobia. Worse, they frequently had no access to guarantees of due process or to remedies.
The human rights dimensions of migration remained widely neglected. Instead, xenophobic rhetoric against migrants helped politicians win votes, and in times of crisis, migrants were a convenient scapegoat for social and economic difficulties. Therefore, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights worked to close the protection gap between human rights norms in international law and the many violations of them. Mr. Ori commended the Training Guide issued by the High Commissioner with help from the Committee Secretariat, which would be launched on 4 April. Further, he welcomed the decision of the Committee to elaborate General Comment Six on the Convergence of the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Such complementary human rights instruments had to be implemented with synergy to protect the rights of all migrants, regardless of their status.
Regular migration remained a central mechanism for protecting the rights of migrants and their families. Mechanisms and tools promoting the protection and human rights would protect not only the migrants themselves, but also the countries receiving them. Mr. Ori noted with concern the findings in this Committee and the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s joint General Comments Three, Four, Twenty-Two and Twenty-Three on the rights of children in the context of international migration. These Committees referred to the increased vulnerability of children in the context of international migration, in particular those who were undocumented; stateless; unaccompanied or separated from their families throughout the migratory process; or exposed to different forms of violence, including kidnapping and abduction. They acknowledged that the lack of regular and safe channels for children and families contributed to children taking life-threatening and extreme migration journeys. He praised the work of the Committee and wished it a successful session.
EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Chair, noted that the intersessional period was full of activity. A joint declaration was drafted on female migrant workers and information and communication technologies, as well as a declaration on racial discrimination in the context of migration. A meeting was held amongst previous Chairs of the Committee as well as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Forums were attended, including in Morocco and in Buenos Aires. A project was also underway between the Chair, Fatima Diallo and students of the Free University of Amsterdam to disseminate videos promoting the Convention. Over the next two weeks, the Committee would work intensively to fulfil its mandate.
Statements by National Human Rights Institutions and Non-Governmental Organisations
National Human Rights Council of Morocco said that it attached major importance to the protection of migrants. Investigations into the tragic events at the crossing point Barrio Chino demonstrated the need for Euro-African solidarity. During the Global Forum on Human Rights, the Council dedicated attention to the rights of migrants. It welcomed improvements, including Moroccan public policies that followed the Council’s recommendations, such as on human trafficking, and the setting up of the African Union’s African Migration Observatory. Despite progress, challenges remained, such as the documentation of refugees. The Council called on the Committee to integrate its recommendations to guarantee migrants’ access to work and to address the overlap of the obligations under the Convention with respect to social protection granted by authorities.
Comité Migrations Souss Massa asked the Committee to consider the following questions and recommendations: what was the agenda in Morocco to adopt a law governing migration and asylum, given the criticism of the current one? How would the Government address the continued displacement toward the cities in the centre and southern regions of Morocco, and what rights did the displaced have? It called on the Moroccan State party to not only integrate the Committee’s recommendations and Views, but also to increase cooperation between countries in the African continent. Further, international instruments should be integrated into law to take precedent over domestic legislation. Trainings were also recommended for agents in contact with migrants to ensure the protection of the rights of migrants. The State party was called upon to give equal access to education for Moroccan children.
Forum for Justice and Human Rights noted with concern an increasing hostility to migrants in Morocco in the form of deportations of sub-Saharan migrants to Niger. Migrants were the targets of hate speech. The National Immigration and Asylum Strategy adopted in 2013 ensuring access to education and vocational training was a welcome development, however. Increased work was needed given the horrible conditions, the minute salaries migrants received and their inability to access healthcare, which was deplorable. The Forum called on the Committee to call for the State party to publish reports on objectives and actions; to repeal act 2023 sanctioning migrants in irregular situations; review conditions to obtain asylum; establish conditions to access healthcare; grant access to local courts in the case of violations of their human rights; increase workplace inspections and urge employers to declare migrant workers; and allow families of migrants to be regularised and included in social welfare.
Federaciones Red Acoge y Andalucía Acoge expressed concerns over agreements between Spain and Morocco strengthening border control, which put migrants’ life at risk. Migrants experienced violence from Moroccan and Spanish police. A specific case of violation of non-refoulement was concerning. Proper time was not taken to verify identity documents. The violence of 24 June 2022 in Nador and Melilla was deplorable, a culmination of poor practices and police violence. To date, the incident had not been investigated nor prosecuted. The Federation called on the State party to immediately investigate the events, and to end arbitrary detention and mass deportations, especially in areas near the Spanish autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla.
Amnesty International focused on concerns over Morocco’s failure to comply with its obligations regarding the 37 deaths and disappearances of at least 77 people of June 24, 2022. The organisation found that Moroccan police and border guards used excessive force to disperse a group of 2,000 black people largely of sub-Saharan origin. Border guards used rubber bullets and tear gas against people who had no way to escape, and kicked those who were defenceless after being injured. Eyewitnesses reported that members of the group had been bussed and then abandoned in remote locations in the country. Families had had no word from their disappeared loved ones since their interactions with the border guards. Nine months later, not a single agent had been brought to justice and no public information was available on the events, which violated the right to truth, justice and reparation. The organisation called on the Government to carry out independent investigations that included a perspective of racial discrimination against black people, and then to develop a human rights compliant approach to migration.
Groupe Antiraciste de Défense et d’accompagnement des Etrangers et Migrants expressed concerns over security measures used in border controls. Migration was criminalised under Act 02.03, despite the State party commitment to international human rights standards. The Act discouraged attempts to regularise migration. Further, the public order concept within the Act was poorly outlined and therefore was left to the discretion of officials. The Group found that refusals to deliver work permits were not recorded and no procedure for appeal was provided for. The Act had a spill-over effect, making migration to neighbouring countries and continental Europe more precarious. The Group called on the State party to adopt a legislative framework on the rights of non-Moroccan nationals that respected Morocco's international commitments and ensured effective access to rights.
Meloush Awoush Association of Moroccan Victims Arbitrarily Expelled from Algeria said that in 1975, 500,000 persons legally residing in Algeria were deported to Morocco. Most of these families now lived in economically vulnerable situations. The Association called on the State party to compensate the families of victims in line with article 15 of the Convention, as well as to increase cooperation to solve the matters raised in the dossier and especially improve the living conditions of the families, following reports that the Government requisitioned the housing that was provided to them in 1975. Further, support was called for regarding the descendants of those in the Liberation Army.
Forum Anoual pour le développement et la citoyenneté welcomed recent immigration policy enhancing the lives of refugees and migrants. 50,000 people were regularised, but a large number of immigrants faced challenges, such as forced deportation to cities away from the north as well as access to health care. The Forum recommended adopting new legislation guaranteeing the rights of migrants in line with international standards, renew identity cards, increase access to public services for children of immigrants and protect immigrants from being recruited by gangs and organised crime.
Association Thissaghnasse pour la Culture et le Développement noted that Morocco was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention in 1993. Over the past four decades, the country had changed from a country of immigration to a transit country. The organisation had submitted a shadow report and was closely following the situation of migrants in the west of the country. Except for law 1427 on combatting human trafficking and 1912 on domestic work, laws had not evolved. The importance of acceding to International Labour Organization conventions as well as to ratify the Convention on Stateless Persons was underscored. The organisation called on the State party to integrate the Convention into labour and family law as well as for laws to combat discrimination and facilitate access to healthcare for migrants. The practice of refoulement had to be ended.
Moroccan League for Citizenship and Human Rights echoed other groups’ acknowledgement of its recent legislation and its need for further improvement. He expressed solidarity with sub-Saharan African migrants targeted with racist Government rhetoric in Tunisia. Instability and statelessness were causes for immigration. Significant efforts needed to be undertaken to that ensure the rights of migrants and their families were upheld. Some Moroccans had been expelled from Algeria and to date, this issue had not been addressed.
Centre for Migrant Advocacy noted that Philippine administrations had for 50 years had policies protecting overseas Filipino workers, but the implementation of them was lacking, especially for domestic workers. The centre recalled a horrifying incident. A 35-year-old domestic worker, Jullebee Ranara, was murdered in Kuwait. Her body was found in the desert, her head smashed and body burned. She was reportedly raped and pregnant. Her accused perpetrator was her employer’s son. Sexual abuse and maltreatment were concerning for domestic oversees workers. Local governments had bilateral agreements with Korea to dispatch seasonal workers, but illegal recruitment continued. The Centre called on the State party to review bilateral agreements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, as well as to increase access to jobs for women who were multi-skilled. The Centre asked the Committee to inquire how the new Department of Migrant Workers would be equipped to fulfil its expanded mandate.
Development Action for Women Network said the Philippines had made efforts to protect migrants and their families through passing legislation, but the State did not promote employment as a choice rather than a necessity. The current State policy did not promote the integration of migrants. One challenge for returning migrant workers was a lack of opportunities for them in the Philippines. The Network called on the State party to create jobs and promote access to vocational training and psychosocial care for workers who had returned. Gender-based violence was of great concern for overseas workers when employers withheld their documents. The Network urged the Committee to call on the State party to implement and enforce laws, including the anti-sexual harassment act and its amendments in the Magna Carta of Women, as well as to hold dialogues with host countries to ensure the rights of women. The State party needed to ensure the validity of contracts between host countries to uphold the rights of women Filipina workers overseas.
Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines noted that the Philippine Government had made progress in combatting trafficking in persons by implementing trainings, but little information was available on the prosecution of perpetrators and of corrupt officials. The Committee should inquire about reports of immigration officials allowing the trafficking of Filipino persons by the Chinese mafia to Myanmar to run crypto scams. Human trafficking within the country also took place with the collaboration of immigration officials and the practice was well-known to the police and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, yet nothing was done. Human trafficking could be eradicated if corruption in the Government was addressed.
Questions by Committee Experts
Committee Experts thanked human rights organisations for their interventions. An Expert recalled a visit to Morocco, wherein the Expert met with migrant communities and was able to witness practices of border management. The information would be important to the dialogue with the Moroccan State party.
A Committee Expert asked for further information in the form of data. A gap between regulations and their implementation would be better illustrated with such data.
Another Committee Expert asked about the falsified agreements between local Governments and the Republic of Korea. What made them fraudulent? Was it a local issue or a federal issue? The case of Jullebee Ranara would be addressed. Did the Department for Migrant Workers have sufficient time to start carrying out its role? It had a large mandate.
Responses by Non-Governmental Organisations
Responding to the question on local governments, an organisation representative said that legitimate Korean programs recruited in fishing sectors, but recruitment needed to take place through the Department for Migrant Workers. Complaints had been received from workers who had been illegally recruited by mayors. The Government needed to issue clear guidelines to avoid victimising migrant workers. As deposits were required to participate in overseas employment programmes, corruption took place, with individuals bribing officials to obtain a place in them.
Another representative noted that the Philippine Government did not promote diverse employment in protecting the rights of migrant workers. Cases of deaths and abuses of overseas workers occurred too often for administration to keep up with. A suggestion was to establish a body in Japan to handle all requests relating to the rights of migrant workers. Overseas work was promoted at a rate that safeguards could not keep up with.
Statement by El Salvador National Human Rights Institution
Ombudsperson for Human Rights of El Salvador said its alternative report noted the positive development of both legislation and a National Council for Salvadorian Migrants and workers. Concerns were raised on differences in figures on migrant flows out of the country versus flows into other countries. Training on the rights of migrants and their families was lacking, and the majority of statistics were produced by international organisations. A gap in the Migrant Law was that non-Salvadorian nationals were not covered under it. El Salvador was currently reviewing its immigration and migrant legislation to bring it in line with international instruments. Some migrants continued to be undocumented in the country. There was a case of a Cuban Migrant whose visa renewal was rejected because he did not meet the labour and other requirements. He was in danger of being deported. The Ombudsperson’s office monitored both Salvadorians within the territory and outside of it and received complaints regarding labour violations abroad. A unit on displacement was staffed with advisors, psychologists, social workers and others. The Paris Principles governed the office’s competencies. Issued that needed to be addressed included the flexibility of residency and work permits, the vulnerability of abandoned and unaccompanied children, trafficking in persons and migration considered as irregular. In the short term, the State party had to reform its legislation to ensure that the provisions of the Convention were properly enforced. A single register of all migrant workers was needed.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked if the State was planning to update its legislation on migration? Did the Ombudsperson have any knowledge of the reservation that El Salvador had filed with respect to an article within this legislation that addressed arbitration? What was the Ombudsperson’s opinion of the case?
Responses by the Ombudsperson
The Ombudsperson said that there were two legal instruments with respect to migration underway that were not complementary unfortunately. The reservation on the article addressing arbitration still stood unresolved. She would meet with the parties concerned to see how to best resolve the issue.
Statement by Niger National Human Rights Commission
National Human Rights Commission of Niger said that the impact of COVID-19 had to be taken into account for the country. The Commission had been appointed as the national preventative mechanism against torture. Niger had considered recommendations given following its 2016 report. Important actions had been taken by the Ministry of Employment to improve labour inspections, and the employment policy was amended to address the needs of migrant workers and bring it more in line with the Convention. Awareness campaigns and trainings were undertaken. Some were given to magistrates. However, problems remained. Independent investigations into the border posts with Burkina Faso and Algeria found human rights violations, especially extortion of money from migrants. A lack of interpreters hindered protection of migrants’ rights, as Niger was a French-speaking country. The Commission recommended ensuring awareness raising of the Convention throughout the country, including among magistrates. Measures taken to stem the spread of COVID-19 had a large impact on migrants in particular. Lockdowns in cities prevented freedom of movement and migrants were unable to return to their countries. Prison visits were also limited. The Commission negotiated to allow prisons to make telephone calls during this time. As restrictions were lifted, migrants enjoyed more rights and would continue to enjoy them, as the Commission intended to work with the State party to implement the Convention fully.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert requested more information on Niger’s reception centres. Who managed them, and who did they belong to?
Another Expert noted that there was a serious problem with statistics. The Committee needed clear figures to assess the situation of migrant workers in Niger. Was there reliable data that could be raised by Experts with the State party delegation?
One Expert asked about the training for judges. How was it carried out? Was it lifelong training or short term? Was it specialised in a law, such as labour or family law? What sort of cases were dealt with by judges and what mechanisms were put in place to build capacity? Was there a department or unit within the national human rights institute to deal with migration?
An Expert asked about violation of rights by authorities at the border. Did they receive training?
Another Expert asked for disaggregated data on migration by sex, and nationality, for example.
Responses by the National Human Rights Commission
A representative of the National Human Rights Commission of Niger responded that the Niger State party had not set up reception centres on its own, but had provided non-governmental organisations with means to operate them. Many migrants were victims of refoulement. There were two types of centres. The first was considered a “base camp” for victims of refoulement. The non-governmental organisations responsible for their reception noted their story and circumstances. Following that, they were brought to Agadez to determine if they were to stay or go back to their country, which represented an administrative burden. Precise data was not available on the number of centres because of the large number of non-governmental organisations. There were 57 regional directors trained in migrant policy. Cooperative field missions between the Human Rights Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also took place to try to educate migrants about their rights. Awareness raising campaigns would be brought directly to the border agencies in the future. Large and unceasing migrant flows made the Commission’s work difficult. The recently adopted National Migration Policy was a tool to help develop more solid statistics, instead of them being provided by international organisations such as the International Organization of Migration.
A Working Group dealt with migration within the Commission.
The aforementioned trainings were not only for judges, but for all stakeholders including police. After finding that violations of migrants’ rights were often due to ignorance of the Convention, three two-day worships took place, reaching the largest number of stakeholders possible.
Data on migrants could be available, but was probably not differentiated by sex.
Statement by Argentinian Non-Governmental Organisations
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales and Centre of Refugees and Migrants said that Argentina had adopted a much broader definition of a “migrant worker” within legislation that was in line with the Convention. This was an improvement, but in practice it made residency applications difficult because it required a formal work contract or dependence. Problems were often encountered, especially from workers outside of the Southern Common Market region. Although those from Southern Common Market countries were often granted documentation, those outside of the region faced great difficulty to obtain it. The State party had initiated several programmes and provisions to address this issue, but these were short in scope. They were limited in time frame, and permits were given to certain nationalities only. Having different rules for different nationals was declinatory. This system needed to be amended. Access to certain rights such as old-age pensions and maternity leave required residency permits that took upward of 10 years to obtain. The State party had made improvements in access to invalidity pensions, reducing the residency requirements by half. Deportations under legislation allowing regularisation only if the migrant had entered the country without evading migration control, which contradicted the Committee’s 2019 concluding observations. When borders were closed due to COVID-19, many requests to enter Argentina were refused then replaced with files suggesting irregular migration, which put those people at risk of deportation. This, again, contradicted previous concluding observations.