International Steering Committee for the Campaign for Ratification of the Migrants Rights Convention

Briefing on the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families at the IOM Council Meeting

by Shyla Vohra, IOM

Geneva, 3 December 2002




On behalf of IOM, I would like to welcome you to this Briefing on the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and to thank you for taking the time to attend this event. IOM would like to thank the Steering Committee for its work in promoting the rights of migrants, and to pay special tribute to the work of the Special Rapporteur for her tireless efforts to keep the issue of migrants' rights squarely on the agenda of the international community. We would also like express gratitude to Migrant's Rights International for its central role in organizing this event.

I would like to open by quoting from the introduction of a joint publication prepared by IOM, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Labour Office for distribution at the World Conference against Racism held last year in Durban:

The battle for universal human rights is a fight for hearts as much as it is a fight for laws or policies. We must strive to remember that we are all one human family, regardless of our race, our ethnic origin or any other difference. If this twenty-first century is to be the era of peace we all hope for, we have no choice but to respect each other's differences and recognize that we all share the basic traits of what it is to be human. Governments must recommit themselves to the principle that all persons, including migrants and refugees, have the right to be treated equally and fairly. Let us build upon shared values and see in diversity, not a threat, but rather an enrichment. Our daughters and sons deserve nothing less.

Just days after the end of this Conference which called for universal action to combat racism, discrimination and xenophobia, the events of 11 September occurred. The twenty-first century is not so far the era of peace we had hoped for. Now, a year later, the world is in many ways a different place. It may be still too early to see the lasting effects that those events will have worldwide, although we can say with certainty that there will be many changes in the way we think about and interact with others.

Unfortunately, almost immediately striking, has been the way migrants are being perceived by individuals and by societies. Always in a difficult position, often facing discrimination in their efforts to integrate into their new countries, migrants are in large part bearing a disproportionate share of the reaction to the events of 11 September. Migrants are viewed with more suspicion than before, racist so-called "hate" crimes have risen in many countries, civil liberties for migrants are being curtailed. The topic of migrants' rights has never been so necessary to consider and at the same time, has never been such a thorny issue.

Its against this background that the Steering Committee is continuing in its efforts to promote ratification of the UN Convention for the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. IOM, along with its partners in the Steering Committee, is convinced that the Convention is needed… that it can make a difference to the millions of migrant workers in the world and, just as importantly, can assist governments in their quest to address migration challenges.

The Convention, as well, is viewed with some suspicion by many governments. There remains a lack of information about the Convention and many States remain unaware of its details. Its sheer bulk, comprising 93 articles, may be a cause of the delay in ratifications. Political realities cannot however be ignored. Many countries are opposed to what they see as the recognition and protection of clandestine and irregular workers. Anti-migrant sentiment means that governments are exceedingly cautious in this area

IOM however remains committed with many of its international and national partners to the goals of the Convention and to seeing its rapid entry into force. The daily work of IOM staff around the world involves assisting migrants, seeing how they live, hearing their stories. IOM has seen countless occurrences of abuse, exploitation and violations of the rights of migrants. And, it is convinced that the UN Convention is needed and can make a difference.

How will it make the difference?

There are 4 important points about the Convention which I would like to particularly emphasise:

IOM's role in the Steering Committee and promoting the ratification of the Convention is only one aspect of IOM's increasingly active role in seeking to uphold migrants' rights. In fact, in all aspects of its work, IOM is committed to working toward effective respect for the human dignity and well-being of migrants. This commitment is reflected in all its activities, projects and programmes. Some examples of IOM activities specifically directed at promoting migrants' rights include:

Following the Durban conference, IOM has been particularly concerned with discrimination against migrants and the negative perceptions surrounding migration. I'd like to give you one concrete example of a current IOM project which is directed at discrimination and migrant rights. It was launched by IOM Rome only last week. The project "The Image of Migrants in Italy through Media, Civil Society and the Labour Market" aims to contribute to the improvement of the perception of migrant communities in Italy. Through direct involvement of the media, public and social services, the project aims to combat racism, xenophobic and discriminatory attitudes. The preliminary research for example found that on television news, 78% of the stories mentioning migrants were negative and 58% of those news items related to criminality of migrants. The project will hold training courses for media professionals, create an information agency made up of migrant communities to produce information materials for the media and the public; intercultural orientation courses will also be held for civil servants and social workers working with migrants. Perhaps the element most likely to ensure success of the project is the involvement of 22 partners, mostly non-governmental organizations, involved in migration issues in Italy. The flexibility of NGOs, their extensive knowledge of and access to communities at the grass root level and their emphasis on the well being of the individual make them crucial partners of IOM -in this and many other of its projects.

Distinguished delegates, the need to ensure that migrants' rights are upheld and respected continues to be of primary importance to the work of IOM. As an organization mandated to address migration issues and to provide assistance to migrants, IOM remains convinced that the UN Convention is needed. The entry into force of the Convention will be a strong call to the international community that migrants are human beings, and that as I quoted at the beginning of my speech, we are all one human family and have the same fundamental rights which demand respect.