Day of General Discussion of the Committee on Migrant Workers: Opening remarks by Craig Mokhiber, Chief, Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch

22 April 2013

Mr Chairman
Ladies and Gentleman
Distinguished guests

It is my pleasure to welcome you on behalf of the High Commissioner to this Day of General Discussion of the Committee on Migrant Workers on the role of migration statistics for treaty reporting and migration policies.

Migration is a complex phenomenon and data on migration and on the situation of migrants tends universally to be limited and inadequate. The field of migration is often characterized as one in which “the most amount of policy is made on the least amount of data.”

Migration policy can be made in a glaring absence of data, often in direct reaction to hostile or even xenophobic public discourse. In the context of the global financial crisis, for instance, governments are seeking to promote austerity measures which dramatically restrict the access of migrants to social security systems, under the assumption that migrants are drawn to countries of destination by a “welfare magnet”. Yet recent research tells us that the causal effect between social welfare spending and migration is statistically insignificant. Other research tells us of the many and varied contributions that migrants are making to the societies and economies in which they live and work.

Most official data systems fail to capture either the number or the circumstances of migrants, and much international data on migration does not accurately account for migrants in an irregular situation. Where data is available, it can be incomplete. For example, data is often available on migrants who are detained or otherwise subject to state action – e.g. arrests or even deaths at border control points, numbers in immigration detention, and return figures - but this is rarely indicative of the total irregular migrant population. Population censuses remain the main statistical source of information about migrant populations, and they are of limited value in tracking irregular and marginalized migrant populations. As the economist G.K. Galbraith has observed; “if it is not counted, it tends not to be noticed.”

This means that dialogue between human rights and migration experts and practitioners, statisticians and policy-makers is critical to the promotion of migrants’ human rights.

To establish whether they are meeting their treaty obligations, and ensure that their conduct is not creating inequalities in the enjoyment of human rights, States are obliged to monitor the effects of their policies and actions, including their social policies. To do so, they have a duty to gather disaggregated data. Accordingly, the human rights journey from standard-setting on the human rights of migrants to effective implementation depends, in large measure, on the availability of appropriate tools for migration policy formulation and evaluation.

Human rights challenges in recent years have compelled us to constantly review existing legal, analytical and methodological frameworks. Central to this review is the need for robust measurement frameworks. Statistical information plays a key role in informing public policy and assessing progress in the translation of human rights commitments into reality.

In response to growing requests from States and human rights mechanisms on using indicators in promoting and assessing the realization of human rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has published ‘Human Rights Indicators: A Guide to Measurement and Implementation.’ The Guide outlines a structured and consistent approach to facilitate a dialogue among stakeholders by translating universal human rights standards into indicators that are contextually relevant at country level.

The adopted methodology will assist States and other relevant stakeholders in building national capacities for human rights implementation. The framework focuses on quantitative as well as qualitative indicators. Efforts have been made to keep the indicators simple, based on objective and transparent methodology and, to the extent feasible, with an emphasis on disaggregation by type of prohibited discrimination and by vulnerable and marginalized population group. You will hear more about our work in the course of this Day of General Discussion.

Using human rights indicators to understand migration reminds us that we are not talking merely of an economic or political phenomenon. Migration is centred on the increasingly complex, and at times precarious, movement of more than 214 million people. At its heart, migration is about human beings.

As we look towards the second High-level Dialogue of the General Assembly on International Migration and Development which will take place in October this year, OHCHR’s key message is that migration will only be able to fulfil its potential as an inclusive, equitable and sustainable process when human beings become the central concern of migration policy-making. We look forward to today’s Day of General Discussion to reinforce this message and the importance of a human rights-based approach to migration.