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Human rights are not a matter of charity

20 December 2011


Ensuring all migrants, including those in an irregular situation, enjoy the same human rights as everybody else is a priority for the UN Human Rights office. In an address to the University of Geneva’s Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay underscored the commitment of her office to the rights of migrants.

She recalled that in 2000, when the UN General Assembly proclaimed 18 December as International Migrants’ Day, it referred in its resolution to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind.”

“Looking at the situation of migrants in countries round the world today the promise of this resolution sounds hollow,” Pillay said in her speech to commemorate International Migrants’ Day.

The Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers, during a Day of General Discussion in September heard that, as many as, 10-15 percent of the 214 million people living outside of their countries of birth are in an irregular situation and that their numbers can be expected to grow over the next decade.

Speakers noted that irregular migrants are more likely to face discrimination, exclusion, exploitation and abuse at all stages of the migration process and are often prevented officially from being able to access adequate healthcare, from renting decent accommodation, or from exercising their right to freedom of association.

The situation of Albanians living abroad as irregular migrants is typical of those millions who find themselves in similar situations globally. The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, has recently concluded a mission to Albania where it is estimated one third of the population live away from their home country.

Crépeau drew attention to the rights of children, in particular, those who are not registered at birth because their parents are irregular migrants. “It is unacceptable that children be born into statelessness in today’s Europe”, he said.

The debate, Pillay said, is one which goes well beyond “strengthening border controls or combating crime.” It encompasses demands of economies and labour markets, as well as debates about social integration at all levels. The most neglected element, she said, is the most fundamental - the human rights framework.

The Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers has identified the low level of ratifications of the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families as its key challenge.

Pillay stressed that the Convention “does not conjure up more rights or new rights for migrants. It does not oblige States to regularize the situation of irregular migrants.”

The Convention, she said, makes clear the link between migration and human rights, recognizes the specific vulnerabilities of migrant workers and offers guidance on national migration policies. It provides protection against such violations as unlawful expulsion, arbitrary detention, and the unauthorized confiscation of the identity documents of migrant workers and their family.

“More than 20 years ago, States recognized that migrants needed specific protection and brought the Convention into existence… it is high time that these same States now unblock the political will to ratify and effectively implement this important treaty,” Pillay said.

“Human rights are not a matter of charity,” she said. “Nor are they a reward for obeying immigration rules. Human rights are inalienable entitlements of every human being, wherever they are and whatever their status.”

20 December 2011