Migrant Forum in Asia Statement on Human Rights Day
Today we celebrate the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights by the UN General Assembly in 1948, a momentous step forward in the recognition of the dignity of all human beings. Human Rights Day this year is particularly significant because we are also approaching the 50th anniversary of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Half a century ago, the world agreed upon a set of universal, inalienable rights for all human beings that all states are bound to respect, promote and fulfill. This is indeed something to celebrate; but it is also provides cause to reflect on the spirit of these treaties and their application to the situation of migrants today.
On 12–13 November, bombings in Baghdad, Beirut, and Paris shocked the world. Throughout Europe, the reaction was immediate and unambiguous: migrants, particularly Muslims, were explicitly linked with terrorism. This compounded an already xenophobic and islamophobic discourse on migration, where border controls were being tightened and the resulting undocumented migration was punishable by fines, detention –sometimes verging on extra-judiciary- and deportation. This already precarious situation has now worsened, with right-wing parties calling for radical anti-migrant policies such as the total sealing of borders, and migrants being confronted with increased state and non-state intimidation. Migrants now find themselves more vulnerable than ever, faced with the outright hostility not only of states but also public sentiment.
The irony and unfairness in re-victimizing people fleeing violence and human rights abuses by blaming them for violence upon reaching their destination has been lost on much of the world. In this climate of fear, exclusion and discrimination, International Human Rights Day provides us with a reminder that migrants are, first and foremost, human beings. They are holders of inalienable human rights who have the same dignity and require the same protections as all other humans.
It should be recalled that the principle of non-discrimination lies at the very core of the documents comprising the International Bill of Human Rights. It is strange and cruel that this fundamental principle seems to have been so completely forgotten at a time when migrants are so vulnerable and need the protections they are morally and legally entitled to more than ever. The countries to which migrants have fled would do well to remember that they have a clear obligation under international human rights law to protect, respect and fulfill the human rights of all people under their jurisdiction, irrespective of their national origin or immigration status. Non-discrimination in the guarantee of not only civil rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights, is not charity, to be dispensed at the whim of a generous state and compassionate society; it is a fundamental obligation that states are bound to fulfill.
The human rights of migrants must be at the center of any discussion of migration, but the current objectification, vilification and exclusion of migrants is a reminder of the distance that needs to be traveled to realize this goal. Human rights are intimately tied to migration -migrants flee human rights abuses, suffer them in transit, and face them again upon arrival- and yet the response to this situation has been to discuss security and economics and ignore migrants and their rights altogether.
The abuses, discrimination and marginalization faced by migrants, as well as the exclusion of their voices and experiences from the very discussions that purportedly focus on them have been highlighted by the high-profile migration crises of the past year, but they are far from new or unique. Rather, they encapsulate the long-standing experiences of migrants across the globe. Going forward towards next year’s celebration of the half-century anniversary of the ICCPR and ICESCR, the human rights of migrants can no longer be ignored; they must be at the center of any discussion of migration.
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.