High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, General Assembly, New York, 3 October 2013 High Commissioner's Statement to Round Table 2

Theme: Measures to ensure respect for and protection of the human rights of all migrants, with particular reference to women and children, as well as to prevent and combat the smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons and to ensure orderly, regular and safe migration

Ladies and gentlemen,

Migration is a fundamentally human process. It holds up a mirror to widening global inequalities.

Today, there are more than 232 million international migrants in the world. If they came together to form a country, it would be the fifth most-populous. And yet, this population remains largely invisible and silent. Vulnerable migrants, those in irregular situations, those who are poor and low-skilled, live and work in the shadows. They are afraid to complain, denied rights and freedoms that we take for granted, and are disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination and marginalisation.

When migrants are valued, their worth is measured mainly in terms of the benefit they can bring to others, either as financial remittances to their communities or through work that is seen as too dangerous and degrading for citizens. Migrants are the most common scapegoats in times of austerity. In the eyes of many, their primary value is that they are cheap and disposable.

Barriers to mobility are especially high for the poor and the unskilled, precisely the same people most vulnerable to extortion, violence, discrimination and other violations as they move. A lack of sufficient regular migration opportunities will simply force such migrants into irregular migration channels, including those run by smugglers and traffickers.

There are many motivations for undertaking migration. They can change and evolve, particularly when migrants make long and arduous journeys, and they must be properly understood. Yet bad old habits persist: much of today’s migration policy-making is still dominated by assumptions based on broad migrant categories, rather than on individual assessments of migrants and their particular human rights situations. This is neither good for migrants nor good for their countries of destination. For example, a policy that relies mainly on harsh measures of interception and border control will not only expose migrants to violence, discrimination and exploitation, it will also fail to reduce their numbers.

Ladies and gentlemen,
As the international community comes together in this second High-level Dialogue, it is high time for a paradigm shift. It is not acceptable that migrants should be made to pay with their lives for seeking to escape grinding poverty or discrimination. It is not morally defensible that children and their parents should remain in detention for months or years because they do not have the right visa.

We should be clear that all migrants are entitled to all human rights. I call on States to ratify and effectively implement all core international human rights instruments, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

But I acknowledge also that the human rights movement has to work harder to explain the significance of human rights to migration, and how respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights will be of real and material benefit to the lives of those 232 million migrants.

Human rights are not just rhetoric or charity. They are not awarded for obedience to immigration rules. They are more than the stuff of political confrontation. Human rights are practical and universal expressions of the inherent dignity and value of all human beings. Each right has been developed and voluntarily accepted by States. Every right has content and meaning, and obliges States to take practical steps to fulfil it.

A human rights approach means, for example, that legislative and other measures must be put in place to grant migrants access to essential health care services. It means migrant women have a right to protection from domestic violence and empowers them to seek justice without fear of immigration consequences. A human rights approach promotes concrete measures like collecting more accurate data on xenophobic crimes and strengthening law enforcement and criminal justice responses.

A human rights-based approach also encourages States to develop and implement alternatives to the detention of irregular migrants, alternatives that incorporate robust procedural safeguards and dictate that anti-smuggling and counter-trafficking measures should not damage migrants’ human rights and dignity.

Most importantly, perhaps, a human rights approach to migration ensures that policy makers actually consult with migrants, thus enabling direct migrant participation in decisions that directly concern them, for example on local schooling or community policing guidelines. Through active migrant consultation, national strategies and plans of action on social security, healthcare and education will take the situation and needs of vulnerable migrants into account, as a matter of routine.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since its early beginnings, the UN has sought to approach international migration from a human rights perspective. Through the human rights treaties and other supervisory mechanisms, the UN plays a vital role in elaborating the normative framework on migration and assisting States to incorporate this framework into their migration policy.

We believe that discussion and cooperation on migration should take place more regularly and in much more integrated fashion within the context and under the auspices of the UN. I call on this High-level Dialogue to put together a new agenda for action, one that is human rights-based, concrete and inclusive, an agenda with human beings at its centre.

I thank you.