On International Migrants Day this year we celebrate the extraordinary contributions that migrants make to societies all over the world. Migration flows today are at unprecedented levels: the number of people living and working outside their country of birth well exceeds the population of Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world. On this day, then, let us be reminded not only of the extent of their contribution, but also of the enormity of the need to respect their dignity, rights, and freedom from discrimination and exploitation.
Sustainable Development Goals
We celebrate this year the acknowledgement in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of migrant workers’ contributions to inclusive growth and sustainable development as well as the commitment made by States to insure full respect for the human rights and humane treatment of migrants regardless of their migration status. Civil society worldwide may congratulate itself on its successful push to have States recognize their enormous contribution to development, their vulnerable position and the abuses they suffer. States have recognized the fact that sustainable development cannot proceed without migrant workers whose rights and freedoms are respected.
Sadly, despite this recognition in the SDGs, commensurate legal protection at the national level lags far behind and migrants remain marginalized and vulnerable to exploitation, discrimination and human rights abuses. MFA calls on States to incorporate the provisions under international law guaranteeing migrants their rights into domestic legislation to protect migrants from the abuses they face daily.
The SDGs also remind us of another, darker connection between migration and development. It is a reminder of the ugly root causes of migration, whereby an unequal and exploitative international economic and financial system has driven people abroad. Ceaseless and haphazard liberalization and the dismantlement of social security systems have rendered the global poor ever more vulnerable to a volatile global market. The resulting crises of poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity have increasingly forced people to resort to migration. MFA seconds the call of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants for all States to prioritize addressing these root causes.
Wealthy destination countries must acknowledge their responsibility for migration flows. The demand for cheap -and often, exploited- labour is a fundamental, albeit unspoken and unrecognised, driver of migration. The continued denial of this fact, and immigration policy designed to force migrants into irregular channels drives and tacitly condones their exploitation.
25th Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families
International Migrants Day this year is also an occasion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on Migrants’ Rights (CMW), and the 40th anniversary of ILO convention 143. Convention 143 set out minimum human rights protections for all migrants, and the CMW built on this to further recognize and guarantee respect for the dignity and rights of all migrants. The CMW was an important step forward in states conceiving of migrants not as economic pawns, but as humans with commensurate rights. The Convention recognized their particular vulnerability, and guaranteed them a minimum level of protection. It recognized that fundamental human rights from the Universal Bill of Human Rights were legitimately held by all migrant workers, regardless of national origin or immigration status.
MFA recognises those States that have signed and ratified the CMW, and calls upon all other States, in particular countries of destination, to “Step It Up!” and do the same. MFA started the “Step It Up” campaign to addresses the immediate need for more States to sign and ratify the CMW: it is disappointing that a treaty that merely reaffirm and complement fundamental human rights guaranteed to all humans by the ICCPR and ICESCR to vulnerable migrants should have ratifications from only 48 state parties, with very few destination countries. Given that migrants are extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses, it is unfortunate that wealthy states that pontificate on human rights should balk at the prospect of offering basic protections to those who need recognition of these rights the most. Migrant receiving states must finally take responsibility for the protection of the fundamental human rights of all people under their jurisdiction and ratify the Convention.
A Framework to Guide Responses to Current Crises
2015 has been a year of migration crises that have exposed the discrimination and xenophobia that still underlie discourse on migration. Unprecedented flows of refugees facing violence and persecution have braved extremely dangerous journeys in the Mediterranean and Andaman seas but have been met with, at best, a confused and misguided response, and at worst, outright hostility and xenophobia. In Southeast Asia, States forced sick and starving people packed into boats back to sea, while in Europe, States set about sealing their borders and meeting refugees with police lines. The crises have forced the world to confront the unresolved contradictions of international obligations and a persistent fortress mentality.
In this time of crisis, we urge people and governments around the world to remember that there is indeed a framework, built decades ago, that can guide our response to current challenges. The ICCPR and ICESCR, now 50 years old, and the CMW, now 25, lay out broadly accepted principles that must be upheld now, more than ever before. The protection of human rights is meaningless if it is not upheld for those who need it most. Human rights are universal, indivisible, inalienable and interdependent, and it is to international human rights standards that we must therefore look in our response to today’s crises. As we at long last recognize migrants’ contributions in the SDGs, we must recall the spirit of the international instruments that require us to recognize migrants as human beings with agency, dignity, and rights.
MFA, its members and partners are celebrating international migrants day across the Asia by organizing a number of activities with migrant communities and members of their families. To know more about the activities of MFA and its partners for International Migrants Day please check the step it up website: http://mfasia.org/stepitup/migrants-campaign-month-2015/
Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) is a network of grassroots organizations, trade unions, faith-based groups, migrants and their families and individual advocates in Asia working together for social justice for migrant workers and members of their families. Since 1994, MFA has thrived into a formidable migrants’ rights advocacy network in Asia, affecting significant influence to other networks and processes on the globe. To date, MFA is represented in 26 countries in the Asia – Pacific. MFA members and partners are also coalitions and networks, bringing the membership in the region close to 260, and growing each year.