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Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Discuss Draft Joint General Comment on Xenophobia and the Rights of Migrants

04 December 2023

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this afternoon held a side event to discuss their draft joint general comment on the duty of States parties to address xenophobia and racial discrimination, and its impact on the rights of migrants.

In opening remarks, Verene Albertha Shepherd, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, welcomed the meeting between the two Committees. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had been working with the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers on a joint general comment on the duty of States parties to address xenophobia and racial discrimination, and its impact on the rights of migrants and their families, which would be concluded soon. The main goal of the initiative was developing an authoritative guidance for States parties of both Conventions on comprehensive public policies for addressing xenophobia and its impact on the rights of all migrants and their families, and societies, to prevent and eradicate it in the short and long term.

In the discussion, speakers, among other things, said the proposal for creating the guidance should meet the needs and address challenges of irregular migratory flows, and xenophobic acts of which migrants were victims. This was a very important undertaking. It was appreciated that the general comment was being drafted by both Committees, which would give the necessary guidance much greater clout. The guidance should promote safe, well-ordered and responsible migration. The general comment could go a long way in combatting xenophobia against all migrants.

As Governments grappled with the new realities of diverse societies, there had been a marked increase in discrimination and violence directed against migrants, and refugees by various extremist groups, individuals and communities in many parts of the world, speakers said. Millions of human beings continued to be the victims of varied forms of racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, during their migration journey and at destination. These scourges not only persisted but were continually assuming new forms. Migrants faced negative stereotypes in the media, including that they were criminals and increased the levels of crime, and also paradoxically, that they were lazy and did not want to work. Migrants were used as scapegoats for terrorism as well as social issues by political parties and authorities, without any evidence.

Speakers said strong, authoritative guidance was needed during times of pushback against migrants. Freedom of speech needed to be balanced with the necessity of addressing hate speech. The issues of false belief, fake news and digital technology were important to take into account when addressing xenophobia. It was important that the guide took into consideration artificial intelligence and how it could be used to profile migrants.

The guidance should also consider the specific risks that women faced during the migration process. Speakers welcomed that the draft general comment set out to cover a wide range of issues in an intersectional manner, including gender. Migrant women faced various forms of racism, ethnic discrimination and xenophobia at all stages of migration. The growing use of digital technology at borders was particularly harmful for non-white migrant women, increasing risks of deportation. It was hoped that this was an issue which would be addressed in the new joint general comment.

Xenophobia and discrimination also threatened efforts to protect children’s rights and could lead to the erosion of legal protection for children on the move. Bullying at school, language discrimination and exclusion could limit migrant children’s opportunities. The guidance could strengthen social protection policies for migrant children and guarantee them equal access to social services. There needed to be opportunities for children and youth on the move to meaningfully contribute as agents of change and peacebuilding.

Speakers said the guide should include key topics, especially recognition of the economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights of migrants and lines of action for receiving States, to guarantee access to justice for migrants and Afro descendants. It was also necessary to take into account the situation of undocumented migrants and ensure that they had access to social services. The guide should promote the gathering of clear, detailed statistics by States which received migrants. It was also vital to consider the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on migrants and migration flows. The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda recognised that migrants contributed vastly to sustainable development.

In closing remarks, Committee Experts thanked organizations and States for their support in addressing the vast and growing problem. The work would ensure the participation of States parties, United Nations agencies and civil society institutions. They said it was important to place human dignity and human rights at the heart of the work. It was also important that the general comment was adopted by November 2024.

In concluding remarks, Edgar Corzo Sosa, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers, said it had been a pleasure to have both Committees meeting together. Human rights were cross cutting and all the work of the Committees linked into each other.

The panel discussion was moderated by Andrea Ori, Chief, Groups in Focus Section, Human Rights Treaties Branch. The speakers included Ramon Maria Muñoz Castro, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations Office at Geneva; Martin Oelz, Senior Specialist on Equality and Non-Discrimination, International Labour Organization; Inkeri von Hase, Global Coordinator, Making Migration Safe for Women, UN Women; Anne Althaus, International Migration Law Specialist, International Migration Law Unit, International Organization for Migration; Rhonda Fleischer, OIC lead of the United Nations Children’s Fund Migration and Displacement Hub; Michele LeVoy, Director, PICUM; and two other representatives of civil society.

The webcast of Committee meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers thirty-seventh session can be found here. Documents and reports relating to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s one-hundredth and eleventh session can be found here.

The Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 7 December for a capacity building event. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination will next meet in public at 4 p.m. on Friday, 8 December to close its one-hundred and eleventh session.