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This review summarizes main trends, issues, debates, actors and initiatives regarding recognition and extension of protection of the human rights of migrants. Its premise is that the rule of law and universal notions of human rights are essential foundations for democratic society and social peace. Evidence demonstrates that violations of migrants' human rights are so widespread and commonplace that they are a defining feature of international migration today.

About 150 million persons live outside their countries; in many States, legal application of human rights norms to non-citizens is inadequate or seriously deficient, especially regarding irregular migrants. Extensive hostility against, abuse of and violence towards migrants and other non-nationals has become much more visible worldwide in recent years. Research, documentation and analysis of the character and extent of problems and of effective remedies remain minimal.

Resistance to recognition of migrants' rights is bound up in exploitation of migrants in marginal, low status, inadequately regulated or illegal sectors of economic activity. Unauthorized migrants are often treated as a reserve of flexible labour, outside the protection of labour safety, health, minimum wage and other standards, and easily deportable.

Evidence on globalization points to worsening migration pressures in many parts of the world. Processes integral to globalization have intensified disruptive effects of modernization and capitalist development, contributing to economic insecurity and displacement for many.

Extension of principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights culminated in the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. With little attention, progress in ratifications was very slow until two years ago. A global campaign revived attention; entry into force is likely in 2001. Comparative analysis notes that ILO migrant worker Conventions have generally achieved objectives but States have resisted adoption of any standards on treatment of non-nationals.

A counter-offensive against human rights as universal, indivisible and inalienable underlies resistance to extension of human rights protection to migrants. A parallel trend is deliberate association of migration and migrants with criminality.

Trafficking has emerged as a global theme contextualizing migration in a framework of combatting organized crime and criminality, subordinating human rights protections to control and anti-crime measures.

Intergovernmental cooperation on migration “management” is expanding rapidly, with functioning regional intergovernmental consultative processes in all regions, generally focused on strengthening inter-state cooperation in controlling and preventing irregular migration through improved border controls, information sharing, return agreements and other measures.

Efforts to defend human rights of migrants and combat xenophobia remain fragmented, limited in impact and starved of resources. Nonetheless, NGOs in all regions provide orientation, services and assistance to migrants, public education and advocating respect for migrants rights and dignity. Several international initiatives now highlight migrant protection concerns, notably the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants, the Global Campaign promoting the 1990 UN Convention, UN General Assembly proclamation of International Migrants Day, the 2001 World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia, anti-discrimination activity by ILO, and training by IOM.

Suggestions to governments emphasize the need to define comprehensive, coordinated migration policy and practice based on economic, social and development concerns rather than reactive control measures to ensure beneficial migration, social harmony, and dignified treatment of nationals and non-nationals. NGOs, businesses, trade unions, and religious groups are urged to advocate respect for international standards, professionalize services and capacities, take leadership in opposing xenophobic behaviour, and join international initiatives. Need for increased attention to migrants rights initiatives and inter-agency cooperation by international organizations is also noted.