Critical Report No 9
Issue : Rights of Migrants --- --- ---- — ------ ------- —
- ------ - ----- - ----------- Part of a series of the Human Rights Programme
Migration is a phenomenon as old as humanity itself. Individuals and peoples have always gone in search of an environment that is best for their survival and their comfort. Of course, those in power have also been responsible for the forced movement of whole populations, and at various times in history, these groups have been reduced to conditions of slavery, such as was the case with the slave trade, when black people were taken forcibly to the Americas to serve the needs of the colonisers of that continent, etc.
For thousands of years, human beings have migrated freely across the world and settled in uninhabited or supposedly uninhabited lands. This is no longer the case today. With the creation of modern states, with their clearly delineated borders, migratory movements are strictly controlled.
There are many causes for migration today, but the overwhelming number of people who migrate do so for economic or political reasons (see Chapter II). We need to make a distinction here between migration within a country and international migration. Four times as many people migrate internally as internationally. We need also to make a distinction between asylum seekers and migrant workers. The first group are seeking to escape repression in their own State whereas the second group are supposedly responding to the need for a work force in another state. (called the Geneva Convention, of 1951) only protects people whose civil and political rights have been abused. It makes no provision for people who have suffered abuses of their economic, social, cultural and environment- al rights which are not covered by international protection. But there is a narrow dividing line between political refugees and so called economic migrants, and in practise the distinction is quite arbitrary.
Naturally, the fundamental right of each and every human being should be to remain in their country of origin and to have basic needs met. But the unequal development that characterises the world today is forcing vastly more and more people to look for a better future in another country. In the last few decades international migration has grown enormously. The neo-liberal policies that dominate the process of globalisation today have accelerated international migration, providing capital with an ever cheaper work force. Between 2000 and 2010 the number of migrants doubled and now exceeds 200 million people across the world. All regions of the world are affected by the phenomenon although one thing that is new is that today women constitute nearly half of all migrants.
Inevitably this enormous movement of people has significant economic, political, social and cultural consequences, as much in the host country as in the countries they are leaving. The country of origin loses many well educated people (brain drain), who are of course indispensable to economic, social and cultural development but the host country benefits accordingly. The migrants contribute to the prosperity of the host countries to the extent that they have become vital to the functioning of their economies. Migrants also contribute to the host country culturally and artistically.
We must not lose sight of the fact that migrants also play an equalising role, offering a kind of safety-net in an unequal world, by financially maintaining their families who have stayed behind in the coun- try of origin. In 2010, the amount of money sent back by migrant workers to their country of origin (in the South) was nearly three times the amount received by those countries in development aid.
Contrary to common perception in the West, by far the largest international migration occurs between countries of the South. According to 2010 figures, out of 128 million migrants living in countries of the North only 74 million originated from countries in the South, whereas the latter receive 86 million on their own soil.
We must also remember that the reason that so called “irregular”, “clandestine” or “undocumented” migration has increased in Europe and in the USA (who receive nearly half of the irregular migrants in the world) is precisely because these countries have taken administrative, legislative and even military measures to prevent all “unwanted” migration to their territory. These measures have removed all the weight from the Geneva Convention, which was already quite restricted in its application, and have rendered it almost inoperable, as is certainly the case in Europe (see Chapter III A).
While host states have the right, within current international law, to regulate levels of migration they also have a duty both to respect and to ensure respect for the rights of migrants who do arrive (regular or irregular). This is the message at the heart of the UN and ILO international conventions. While this report concentrates mainly on the situation of irregular migrants, it will also look at the scope and workings of these conventions.