Press Release

UN International Migrants Day
18 December

“Migrants are human beings with human rights”

December 18, 2013

GENEVA / WASHINGTON D.C. (18 December 2013) – Joint statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, François Crépeau; the Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Abdelhamid El Jamri; and the Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Felipe González, to mark the UN International Migrants Day.
No doubt, migration and development is an important issue. This year, global discussions about migrants have focused a lot precisely on that. In October, States met in New York for the second High-level Dialogue on migration and development. Discussions about the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and the inclusion of migration in it, are on-going.

However, we must keep in mind that migrants are first and foremost human beings with human rights, and cannot be perceived or portrayed only as agents for economic development.

Migrants should not be perceived or portrayed only as helpless victims in need of rescue, or criminal frauds. States authorities have a responsibility to fight expressions of racism and xenophobia, to charge perpetrators of violence or discrimination against migrants, and foster a public discourse that encourages openness to differences, acceptance of social change and celebration of diversity.

On the occasion of the International Migrants Day, we wish to remind everyone that human rights must lie at the heart of all discussions about migrants and migration policies.

All migrants, by virtue of their human dignity, are protected by international human rights law, without discrimination, on the same footing as citizens, regardless of their administrative status or situation. But, despite the legal framework in place, migrants worldwide continue to suffer abuse, exploitation and violence.

In the Declaration of the High-level Dialogue, States adopted a human rights language for discussing migration issues within the UN. But there is still reluctance to make the UN a central forum for discussing migration policies.

States continue to attempt to govern migration largely on a unilateral or bilateral basis, and this has led to a lack of coherence among global, regional and national governance, and a retreat from binding UN-based frameworks, with State preference for informal processes, such as the Global Forum on Migration and Development and Regional Consultative Processes. But these lack a strong human rights approach, as well as monitoring and implementation mechanisms, due to their non-normative nature.  

Although such forums are necessary to build political trust between States on issues which are electorally sensitive at domestic level, migrants need that this trust be transformed into more formal agreements and developed into tools for meaningful policy development within formal cooperation frameworks, including at the UN.

Following up on the outcome of the High-level Dialogue, we urge States to consider in their national migration policies, issues such as:

  • the decriminalization of irregular migration,
  • the development of alternatives to administrative detention of migrants in an irregular situation,
  • combatting xenophobia and discrimination against migrants
  • the rights of migrant children,
  • economic, social and cultural rights,
  • the effective protection of life and human rights at international borders,
  • and a meaningful access to recourse for migrants who are victims of human rights violations.


We also urge States to ratify all the international and regional human rights treaties, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, and to implement them fully.

In the end, as has been the case with other categories of marginalised human beings, the objective should be to empower migrants to fight for their own rights. They should be offered the normative, institutional and procedural tools that will protect against contractual or situational precariousness, as well as grant them effective access to justice and appropriate remedies.

Access to social actors such as health care personnel, school personnel, labour inspectors, social workers or local police should be facilitated for all migrants, including irregular migrants, who should not fear being arrested, detained or deported simply for calling for help.

Such actors should be able to perform their important social missions without interference, and ‘firewalls’ should be established between public services and immigration enforcement services. Access to justice is also key, as courts, tribunals, national human rights institutions, ombudspersons and other quasi-judicial actors, unlike politicians, will defend the rights of migrants without being subjected to electoral pressure.

Migration and development will always be a key migration issue, but let us never forget that migrants are human beings with human rights.


For more information, visit:

UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

UN Committee on Migrants Workers

IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants

For more information and media requests, please contact Christel Mobech (+41 22 917 9995 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

No. 102/13