By Louise Requin / GICJ

On December 18th, we celebrate international migrants day: the anniversary of the General Assembly’s adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990). The UN and its agency International Organisation for Migration (IOM) as well as the international community use this date to foster support for this convention which remains unsigned and unratified by an overwhelming majority of states.

The international Convention on the rights of migrant workers remain unratified by key host states, such as the USA and Canada, Brazil, the majority of the European Union, the majority of Asian countries, Gulf countries, East and South Africa and Australia. The convention takes a comprehensive, holistic approach to migrants’ and migrants workers’ rights. It aims at presenting migrants as natural bearers of human rights, a perspective too often forgotten by policy-makers. Its existence also fights prejudice, harmful treatment and discrimination against migrants.

The theme for this year’s international migrant’s day is “harnessing the potential of human mobility”. The contemporary world offers many opportunities for migration, with facilitated transit and globalization. Migrants create a potential for progress, technical change, creativity, new perspective, and a workforce on all levels of the labour market. Harnessing this potential means creating policies that allow the best and fastest possible inclusion of immigrants in the national civil political, cultural and economic life. This means creating culturally sensitive campaigns, bridging the language barrier, and welcoming multiculturalism. It also means making sure that all newcomers are given the assistance they need, including shelter, access to food, education and the labour market. Without these elements, the potential of migration remains untapped.

The contemporary world presents migrants with a lot of threats, obstacles and challenges. The multiplication of migration laws in the Western world created a legal framework specifically designed to make migration irregular, and contains penal procedures that are only applicable to those who cross borders without the deemed-necessary documentation. Furthermore, the global discourse in the West about migration frames migrants as a threat to internal security, and grossly misrepresents the facts about migration. Most migrants move internally within their country, or region. The continent that hosts the most migrants is Asia, and the overwhelming majority of migrants are of working age (74% are aged 20-64). Finally, migration is a driving force for a lot of states, rather than an existential threat.

Some of the migrant population is in need of assistance: asylum-seekers. Fleeing from conflict, insecurity, persecution or even the consequences of climate change, asylum-seekers are entitled to refugee protection. Unfortunately, many countries still do not respect the rights of refugees. In the European Union since 2015, policies seek to limit access to asylum, such as the EU-Turkey deal, or the extra-territorialization of borders delegating responsibility to countries such as Libya. There have been forced collective returns performed in Greece. Little is done to provide safe routes, rather, everything is put in place to prevent border crossing. The recent deaths of thirty asylum-seekers in the English Channel is an example of such policies.

The conditions of life of migrants are also made incredibly difficult. Australian asylum processing centres are set offshore, in Nauru or even Papua New Guinea, and detain asylum-seekers for the duration of the procedure. American detention centres at the Mexico-US borders were shown to detain children separated from their parents. Camps around Europe maintain asylum-seekers in terrible conditions, sometimes even locked up in waiting zones in airports and train stations.

Once migrants are “regularized”, the struggle remains. Discrimination prevents a lot of first or second, third-generation immigrants from fully participating in the economic, civil and political life of their countries. Job searches are difficult, migrants are often paid less than their national counterparts, and they face harsher conditions of labour. They are at a heightened risk of human trafficking and abuse in general. Furthermore, institutional literacy is lower among migrant populations, causing them to have lower access to healthcare, education, political participation.

Therefore, to honour the adoption of the International Convention on the protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and members of their families, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) calls on all states to sign and ratify it. The protection and promotion of migrants’ human rights is in the best interests of all nations. Migrant populations represent a potential, an opportunity for states. But more fundamentally, they are fellow human beings to whom we owe no less than to our co-nationals.

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