International Migrants Day – a reason to remember?

The 18th December marks International Migrants Day

“ We meet in what I call an age of mobility. An era where people cross borders in growing numbers in pursuit of opportunity and hope for better life. Today, the number of international migrants is greater than at any time in history, with 214 million people living outside their country of birth” – UN SG at the Opening of the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Athens in November 2009.

On the 9th of December 2009,  Mohammad Muzaffar Ali, known as Sher Kan, a refugee from Pakistan died from cold on the streets of Rome. He was the founder of one of the first migrant associations in Rome, the Asian Workers Association. Even if involved in many battles for improved migrants’ rights he did not manage to secure his own basic rights to life and a home.

As the seasons come and go here in Italy, they bring increasing traumas for migrants such as Mr Ali. In the north of Italy one of the political parties has been promoting a “White Christmas”. Instead of hoping for some festive snow, they’re putting their efforts into ensuring that they expel as many non-European immigrants as possible in the run-up to Christmas.

Meanwhile, over the summer we witnessed boatloads of migrants in the Mediterranean being turned away from Italy. But it isn’t just Italy that is “pulling up the drawbridge” and turning away hopeful migrants. The “age of mobility” is apparently only accessible to some people.

As we approach International Migrants Day there seems to be a huge divide between the declared Human Rights and the reality of people who seek work and opportunities in countries other than their own. In reality the message to migrants is tough and grim.

Earlier this year, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) released the results of its survey based on interviews of over 23,000 individuals from ethnic minorities and immigrant groups about their experiences of discrimination, racist crime, and policing in the EU. “The results reveal shocking evidence about the discrimination faced by minorities in everyday life; in the classroom, when looking for work, at the doctor’s or in shops.”[1]

I’m far from one to offer universal recipes, but I think there are things we can do. We can change our own attitude for a start to make ourselves more open to others who are guests in our countries.

We need to talk about actions and concrete measures to promote the respect of people’s human rights. This would include strongly advocating for a policy where the right to life comes before the right to control borders. This advocacy work was something we focused on at the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Athens last month.

We need to establish accessible structures where migrants, independent of their status, can claim their rights or denounce violations of their rights, e.g. an Ombudsman for the rights of domestic workers.

Let’s work towards a convention for decent work for domestic workers, overcoming specific vulnerabilities of migrant domestic workers, such as linking work permits and/or residence permits to one employer.

And finally let’s not give up our advocacy for the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. It has been ratified by 42 countries so far. However some of them don’t still don’t guarantee migrants’ rights and none of these countries belong to the big receiving countries in the world.

Whenever you speak to representatives of the latter countries and ask why the Convention cannot be ratified, you get a big sigh, like a naughty child who does not want to understand what their big brother said. The main argument is that it “regularises” undocumented migrants and could provide an incentive for more irregular migration. A study of the German Institute for Human Rights of 2007 analyses the Migrant Workers Convention and its implications for Germany and comes to the conclusion that these arguments are not founded and that the barriers for a ratification are not as high as always claimed.

It would be an important step forward if more of these studies (existing and new) were compiled and clear facts provided.  The Convention was adopted on the 18th of December 1990. Governments have to ask themselves if in times of insecurity and recession non – action is the right solution or if it creates further fears, unrest and feeds right wing extremists who undermine our democracies. Next year it will be the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the convention. Hopefully by then we will have a reason to celebrate and migrants won’t be dying on the streets of wealthy countries as people shop for their Christmas presents.

Governments have the responsibility to protect migrants, we have the responsibility that they are respected as persons!

1 Comment

Filed under Advocacy, Migration

One response to “International Migrants Day – a reason to remember?

  1. Tim Walsh

    Thank you for this very important statement. This is a very sad message which needs to be read by the widest possible audience. In every country there are people looking for warmth, shelter and safety. Hopefully, at Christmas, more than any other time, we need to be aware of the need to open our hearts and doors.

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