Intervention by the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights at the High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development

New York, 3 October 2013

Roundtable 1: Assessing the effects of international migration on sustainable development and identifying relevant priorities in view of the preparation of the post-2015 development framework

Ladies and gentlemen

As we discuss migration in the context of a new development agenda, we are convinced that such an agenda must deliver first and foremost on the promise of freedom from fear and want for all people without discrimination.

Development interventions should not push migrants to migrate as “agents of development”, particularly without adequate protection of their human and labour rights. Migrants are not just remittance providers. The development agenda should therefore not focus merely on the size of global remittance flows, but must pay attention to the conditions in which this money is being earned and the hardship that migrants must go through in order to send their money home.

The post-2015 development agenda must take into account the development situation of the more than 232 million migrants around the world, many of whom live and work in precarious and inequitable conditions. Development targets that pay no attention to which groups are being left behind are just like economic growth targets – they can be met without having any positive impact on ensuring a more equal and just world. Worse, they may even undercut these objectives.

The situation of migrants should therefore be visibly disaggregated within any future development goals, targets and indicators. The post-2015 agenda is also an opportunity to enhance the knowledge base on the human rights dimensions of migration, particularly in relation to more vulnerable migrants.

When the poorest migrate, they often do so under conditions of vulnerability which reflect their limited resources and choices. In many countries, accordingly, irregular, temporary and low-skilled migrants (and their children) are significantly more likely to be living in poverty and inequality than citizens.
Think of the worker that migrated to another country to struggle for better living conditions for his family back home, but who is brought home in a coffin as a result of terrible working conditions and zero accountability.

Think of the adult daughter of irregular migrants, born in a neighbouring country but who is suddenly, half a century later, at risk of becoming stateless and without rights because her parents immigrated irregularly.

The post-2015 agenda must apply to them, to all countries and to all people; it should recognise that migrants can, and often do, live in poverty, marginalised and discriminated against in all host and transit countries, including in countries with the highest human development parameters. No society can develop to its true potential when entire sectors of that society are blocked from contributing by legal, social or political barriers.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is of the view that the international human rights framework offers a compelling means of putting inequalities at the centre of development policies and practice. A human rights-based approach aims to support better and more sustainable development outcomes by analysing and addressing the inequalities, discriminatory practices and unjust power relations which are often at the heart of development problems.

To conclude, all migrants, regardless of their status, are rights-holders. They are entitled equally to participate in the design and delivery of migration and development policies, to challenge abuse and human rights violations, and to demand accountability.

What is more, there is increasing evidence that a human rights approach to migration policy-making leads to better and more sustainable human development outcomes. Educated, healthy and empowered migrants are better able to lift themselves and their families out of poverty and contribute to the wider community and economy in countries or origin, transit and destination.