Opening Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development

4 September 2013

Ladies and gentlemen.

I welcome you to the high-level meeting on Migration and human rights: towards the 2013 High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development. It is my pleasure to welcome all the distinguished speakers and participants, as well as our friends, colleagues and partners who are following this meeting live on the internet from outside Geneva. I would like also to thank the government of Switzerland for its generous support.

My Office has convened this meeting today, one month before the second High-level Dialogue takes place in New York in October, in order to promote a robust human rights focus in that important discussion. Our starting point is that migration is not merely an anonymous “mega-trend” nor merely an economic and political phenomenon. It is a fundamentally human process, and one which increasingly holds a mirror up to rising global inequalities.

Today, there are more than 215 million international migrants in the world. If they came together to form a country, it would be the fifth most populous country in the world. And yet, this remains a largely invisible population. Vulnerable migrants, those who are in an irregular situation, those who are poor and low-skilled, live and work in the shadows, afraid to complain, denied rights and freedoms that we take for granted, and disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination and marginalisation.

In international discourse, they appear briefly as “development heroes” or “security villains” before being relegated again to the shadows. When they are valued, their worth is measured in terms of the benefit they can bring to others; in the form of remittances back to their communities or through doing the work that is too dangerous and degrading for citizens. They are the most common scapegoats in times of austerity. Their labour is treated as disposable and cheap.

As we approach the second High-level Dialogue, it is high time that we challenged this demeaning picture. We should be clear that all migrants are entitled to all human rights; that human rights are not a matter of charity nor are they a reward for obeying immigration rules. This is the clear message of the human rights framework.

Migrants are not development commodities or security challenges. Rather, they are human beings with fundamental human rights.

But we have to work harder to explain what human rights mean in the context of migration, and how respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights will have a practical impact on the lives of those 215 million migrants.

Human rights are not just rhetorical phrases. Human rights are practical and universal expressions of the inherent dignity and value of all human beings. They have been developed and voluntarily accepted by all states. Every right has content and meaning.

The right to health, for example, means that legislative and other measures must be put in place to enable migrants to access health care services. To give practical effect to this right, states must collect reliable and relevant data on migrants, with a focus on those most marginalised and vulnerable, taking care that the data is not accessible to immigration authorities.

OHCHR, in partnership with IOM and WHO, has recently published policy guidance on a human rights-based approach to health programming for migrants.

A human rights approach will mean empowering migrant women at risk of domestic violence to access justice without fear of immigration consequences. It will mean taking practical measures to prevent and combat xenophobia, such as strengthening law enforcement and criminal justice responses, enabling victims and communities at risk to access justice through accessible complaints mechanisms, and collecting more accurate data on xenophobic crimes.

Using a human rights-based approach will enable policy-makers to identify who the most vulnerable groups are within their society, and to target their policy actions towards alleviating this vulnerability and promoting empowerment. A human rights approach to migration ensures that migrants are consulted by policy-makers, and that they are enabled to participate when decisions are made that directly concern them, such as the provision of education facilities at the local level or community policing guidelines.

It is these practical and concrete messages that we want to send to the High-level Dialogue in one month’s time.

We want the participants at the High-level Dialogue to ensure that the human rights framework is a central feature of all the round tables and in this context I would like to share with you some suggestions for the various Round Tables of the Dialogue:

In Round Table 1, migrants should be explicitly included as subjects of the post-2015 development agenda, with an emphasis on the poorest and most vulnerable migrants, through specific disaggregation in goals and targets;

In Round Table 2, concrete indicators to measure the human rights of all migrants should be discussed; as should strategies to empower migrants to participate in decision-making processes and to access effective justice mechanisms;

In Round Table 3, discussion should centre on the need for all partnerships and cooperation on migration to be human rights-based, transparent, inclusive and accountable. At the national level, for example, migrants should be included in national strategies and plans of action on housing, health, education and social security;

In Round Table 4, practical guidance should be provided on measures to protect the human and labour rights of migrant workers, particularly middle and low-skilled workers, in labour migration processes and at destination.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my belief that as human mobility becomes more complex, the journeys taken by many migrants more perilous, and the situation in which they live and work more precarious, the need to base policy responses to migration on human rights standards becomes ever more important.

And it is for this reason that my Office is recommending, in a report on the governance of international migration being released today, that global discussion and cooperation on migration should take place more regularly and more integrally within the context and under the auspices of the United Nations.

Since its early beginnings, the UN has been concerned with the issue of international migration from a human rights perspective. The UN plays an important role, through the human rights mechanisms and other supervisory mechanisms, in elaborating the normative framework on migration and assisting states to implement this framework in their policy response to migration.

The UN offers a common platform for dialogue and cooperation on migration; a space in which there can be systematic interaction among all stakeholders (including States, employers, civil society, and migrants themselves) on a broad range of cross-cutting migration issues, and where they can identify and address policy and knowledge gaps and emerging issues.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen,

We need urgently to demystify migration and to present a more accurate picture of contemporary mobility. To do this, we need to focus less on the flows, stocks and waves of migration per se, and more on the individual human rights and situation of migrants themselves. At its heart, migration is fundamentally about human beings.

I will be taking this message, and the messages that you will all raise at this meeting, to the High-level Dialogue, and I would like to encourage all of you – from Member States, to Global Migration Group agencies, to civil society and migrants’ associations – to do the same. We look forward to a High-level Dialogue that is able to deliver a concrete and forward-looking agenda for action on migration and human rights for all - people-centred, evidence-based, and human rights compliant - a migration agenda for the 21st Century.

Thank you and I wish you fruitful and inspiring deliberations.