Labour Migration and the Global Compact: Ensuring Rights, Protections and a Decent Work


During the fourth round of negotiations on the Global Compact on Migration, Global Coalition on Migration members across all regions raised targeted proposals on the inclusion of regular pathways into the Compact negotiations and text. Coalition members and civil society partners held a strategy workshop on prior to negotiations bringing together migrant networks, trade unions, and allies to discuss the challenges and opportunities of labour migration pathways and to develop a common strategy and concrete advocacy.

Thank you to Friedrich Ebert Stiftung -NY for hosting us.

Members of the Global Coalition on Migration, regional migrant network focal points, trade unions, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung staff from Berlin, Tunis and New York:

Our objectives included:
o Capacity building of networks on the Compact negotiations and in post-adoption
o Identify common language on labour migration, decent work, labour rights and
o Develop specific advocacy commitments to engage governments
o Formulate joint strategy

Strategy Workshop: Labour Migration and the Global Compact – May 13, 2018

The fourth round of negotiations on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular
Migration was a critical moment to raise the inclusion of regular pathways into the
Compact negotiations and text. This internal civil society workshops aimed to bring together
migrant networks, trade unions and allies to discuss the challenges and opportunities of
labour migration pathways and to develop a common strategy and concrete advocacy.

Thank you to FES-NY for hosting us!

Members of the Global Coalition on Migration, regional migrant network focal points, trade
unions, FES staff from Berlin, Tunis and New York,

o Capacity building of networks on the Compact negotiations and in post-adoption
o Identify common language on labour migration, decent work, labour rights and
o Develop specific advocacy targets of governments and commitments to engage
o Formulate collective strategy (e.g. focus on undecided governments)



Regional Civil Society Consultations

Migrant Forum in Asia co-organized the first in a series of Regional Civil Society Consultations to raise the voices of migrant communities on the ground towards the Global Compact on Migration. The next regional consultations will be held in Beirut for the MENA region and Bamako for Africa. Stay updated at the new official site:

Global Coalition on Migration members are organizing a series of Regional Civil Society Consultations (RCSCs) in collaboration with other organizational partners.  The consultations engage a wide spectrum of grassroots migrant organizations, regional networks, trade unions, researchers and refugee organizations in order to highlight the unique perspective across regions towards the Global Compact.
The Global Coalition on Migration is supporting civil society mobilization and synthesis of outcomes from RCSCs to lift up the voices and recommendations of migrant communities and regions towards the Civil Society and Intergovernmental Stock-taking conference in Guadalajara, Mexico in December 2017.
For a calendar of consultations and ongoing developments, visit the site for the RCSCs on the official UN website on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants on both compacts:
For information on how to engage in or support the RCSCs, contact:

Promoting Human Security/Addressing Drivers of Forced Migration

Here is GCM’s brief for the Second Thematic Consultation for the Global Compact on Migration, held May 22-23 2017 at the UN in New York.  Download the  PDF.

Promoting Human Security & Supporting Mobility Options:

Addressing Drivers of Forced Migration in the Global Compact and Other Complementary Processes and Frameworks

Today’s second thematic consultation ostensibly addresses “drivers of migration, including adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters and human-made crisis, through protection and assistance, sustainable development, poverty eradication, conflict prevention and resolution.”  This phrasing is unfortunate, because it is not drivers of migration but drivers of undesired migration–forced migration and risky and dangerous forms of irregular migration—that need to be addressed.  These pose great risks, dangers and hardship on migrants as well as their families and often communities.  And it is not the number of people who move, but the number who are forced to move or are forced to move irregularly because they lack rights-respecting regular migration opportunities.  In fact, providing rights-respecting regular migration opportunities is one of the most important ways to address drivers that make livelihoods precarious and unsustainable.

That said, we urge that the Global Compact process replace this negative framing around drivers with a positive one:

Forced migration is the product of human insecurity—insecure livelihoods, often caused or exacerbated by climate change; lack of decent work; food insecurity; and lack of physical security and safety due to conflict and violence; as we know, these often interact with one another. 

Rather than “addressing drivers” we urge that attention be focused on promoting human security and safety.  Second, to effectively promote human security and safety, we emphasize the importance of an approach that is both holistic and practical, one that incorporates support for mobility options as adaptive strategies into existing relevant policy frameworks.  Third, these mobility options should be rights-based opportunities for decent work. 

The thematic session panel on climate change notes the need to link to existing policy frameworks to ensure complementarity and coherence.  We strongly agree and note that this applies not only with respect to climate change but with respect to all drivers.  The Global Compact alone cannot address drivers or promote human security; whether we are talking about the nexus between migration and poverty eradication, or prevention and responses to disasters, or climate change, examples of good practices that begin to tackle some small piece of the puzzle are useful but insufficient.   But over the next year and a half, states and stakeholders can develop mechanisms to more comprehensively integrate mobility into complementary policy frameworks and processes, most importantly those related to the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

One of the most important means of achieving complementarity and coherence will be to take a more systematic approach to addressing the intersection of human mobility with the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda as well as with the Paris Agreement.  In the Global Compact context, discussion of the SDGs has been almost exclusively limited to target 10.7, “Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies” (sometimes also mentioning 8.8, occasionally a few others).  But addressing migration governance in a comprehensive way—rather than just repeatedly trying to respond to crisis situations—will require a more integrated, comprehensive approach.

In A/RES/70/1 adopting the SDGs, states emphasized implementation, recognizing the need for a revitalized Global Partnership for Development and committing to “work in a spirit of global solidarity, in particular solidarity with the poorest and with people in vulnerable situations” (Para 39).  Global solidarity is needed, as is the “enabling institutional environment” for financing for development outlined in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA).

The commitment to sustainable development in the SDGs is far deeper and more transformative than the development in the “migration and development” paradigm. If we look just at Goal 10, Reducing Inequality Within and Among Countries, the picture is quite different from looking at 10.7 in isolation.  Goal 10 reflects the spirit of global solidarity and the need to address a wide range of causes of inequality within and among countries. There is an emphasis on countering discrimination and reforming institutions to foster greater equality, and inequalities understood as including but not limited to income inequalities.

Many—even most—of the 17 Goals relate to migrants and/or migration.  In addition to the specific mentions in relation to decent work; safe, orderly, regular and responsible migration; and including migratory status in data collection, there are particularly important intersections with targets in Goals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, and 17.  We note that our member organization, Global Migration Policy Associates, has identified 44 Goals across 15 of the 17 SDGs that relate directly to causes and consequences of or decisions driving human mobility.

Poverty: Although the poorest are often subject to forced immobility, lacking even the resources to migrate, poverty and food insecurity will remain a driver of forced, exploitative migration without attention to reducing inequalities within and between countries.  Sustainable development must mean that the rights of workers everywhere are respected and protected; this includes facilitating the creation of decent work opportunities in developing countries.  While the benefits of remittances—including millions upon millions of remittances from irregular migrants—can be useful to development, the expectation that remittances—and migrants—can bear this burden in countries of origin is misplaced as long as most working relationships in the lower skilled sectors remain exploitative.

Conflict: States need to become more sincerely involved in conflict prevention rather than in interventions aimed at “resolving” conflicts; this would entail a collective commitment to drastically reducing arms exports, and to promoting peacebuilding initiatives, rather than exploiting regional conflicts for geopolitical gains. Foreign policy needs to follow human rights norms, rather than profit maximization objectives. States should also commit to true responsibility sharing for hosting displaced persons through fair and predictable resettlement quotas, rather than continuing to outsource this to countries neighboring those people have fled.

Climate Change: While it will be important to support all frameworks and initiatives for mitigating climate change, migration per se should not be seen as a failure of adaptation; migration for work is a key household adaptive strategy to mitigate risk.  Expanding rights-based regular labor migration opportunities will enable people from affected states to build sustainable lives whether by migrating for a period of time or permanently.[1]

States have asked stakeholders for practical recommendations for the compact.  As a coalition of mainly migrant and migrant led organizations, taking a rights-based and migrant-centered perspective, our strong recommendation is to mainstream human mobility into efforts to achieve the many relevant goals and targets comprising the SDG agenda.  If we focus on mainstreaming human mobility needs and strategies into the SDGs and Paris Agreement, we will have addressed drivers of forced migration.  More positively, we will have made progress toward improving human security and safety for millions of people while aiming to leave no one behind.

[1] See Michele Leighton and Meredith Byrne, “With Millions Displaced by Climate Change or Extreme Weather, Is There a Role for Labor Migration Pathways?” available at

Global Compact Update, May 21 2017

Global Compact Update, May 21, 2017

The Global Compact on Migration thematic consultations got underway on May 8-9 in Geneva with the consultation on the human rights of all migrants, social inclusion, cohesion and all forms of discrimination, including racism, xenophobia and intolerance.  Opportunities for civil society organizations to engage in the consultations– at least those organizations lucky enough to have staff in Geneva or to be able to send someone to Geneva– were uncertain until the last minute.  Literally.  But civil society organizations did have opportunities to speak from the floor.

GCM was also represented on the panels themselves– on the first panel, on the Human Rights of All Migrants, by International Coordinator Monami Maulik, whose comments are here, as well as by Ben Lewis from GCM ally International Detention Coalition (IDC) and Paola Cyment of CAREF and GCM member WIMN.  Michele LeVoy, Director of GCM member PICUM, spoke on the second panel, on social inclusion, on migrants’ right to health and the importance of access to healthcare.

On May 16, GCM held it first– and very successful– webinar on organizing strategies for the Global Compact for GCM member organizations and their members.  Stay tuned for information on future webinars open to a wider audience.

The second thematic consultation, “addressing drivers of migration, including adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters and human-made crises, through protection and assistance, sustainable development, poverty eradication, conflict prevention and resolution” is already here, Monday-Tuesday May 22-23 at the UN in New York.  The  sessions will be webcast live and recorded (

The official UN site for the Compact,, has been expanded and is easier to use.  The “working with partners” section has links to the application forms for those who wish to attend the remaining thematic consultations that will be taking place in New York, Geneva and Vienna.

Key issues for the Global Compact

GCM’s key issues for the Global Compact to address

May 2017 GCM GC Key issues (PDF)

May 2017

Well governed migration must be more than merely “safe, orderly and regular”; it must also protect migrants’ human rights and guarantee access to justice when those rights are violated.  States have an opportunity to develop fair, responsible and coherent collective approaches to migration governance.  These must include development of frameworks and mechanisms to allow people to move regularly across borders—whether to make asylum claims, to work, to look for work, to return home, to return to a job, to get education or training, or to reunite with family members.

We call on States to show leadership and take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Global Compact to:

  • End criminalisation of migrants and ensure that irregular entry or stay is only ever an administrative offense and not grounds for detention;
  • End detention of migrants (children, pregnant women and families most urgently) for purposes of assessing migration status and implementing alternatives to detention, and recognize that international standards state clearly that detention is never in the best interest of the child;
  • Ensure firewalls between immigration enforcement authorities on the one hand, and other government agencies and services on the other, enabling all migrants’ access to social services and to the criminal justice system to report crimes against them, without fear of being detained or deported;
  • Ensure effective access to justice for all migrants, regardless of status, through all phases of the migratory process
  • Respect the rights of irregular migrants at work and outside of work, providing access to healthcare, including sexual and reproductive health services for women; accommodation, and access to education for children;
  • Ensure that gender issues are appropriately addressed at the levels of law, policy and practice so as to empower women in migration and allow them to enjoy full and equal rights protection and benefits from migration;
  • Address the need for paths for regularization of irregular migrants in the interests of social cohesion and integration and consider regularization as an alternative to return.

The vast majority of migrants are economically active, either workers or self-employed.  Many millions of migrants around the world are contributing to economies in low-wage jobs in the informal economy– in agriculture, domestic and care work, construction, and various service sector jobs.   Recognizing that most migration is for labor, we call on States to commit to progressively improving standards for regular migration programs, and to ensure their effective implementation.  Improved labor standards must:

  • Focus on the rights of migrants, benefits to migrants and preferences of migrants as central concerns of regular labor migration programs, not simply benefits to origin and destination states, which often come at the expense of migrants and their families;
  • Reform temporary and circular migration programs to enable workers to fully exercise their rights, including the right to organize and collectively bargain, to use visa portability to change employers and to access justice for protection from retaliation;
  • Provide migrant workers with the widest possible range of mobility choices, including paths to permanent residency and citizenship, with the right to family reunification;
  • Improve transparency, accountability, and adequate standards in labor agreements, preferably by involving the ILO and social dialogue partners;
  • Develop and expand mechanisms for recognition of skills and qualifications at all skill levels;
  • Go beyond current efforts at recruitment reform, developing effective oversight and portable justice mechanisms to guarantee access to justice and end impunity of exploitative recruiters and employers.

We note that if States ratified the nine core international human rights treaties and ILO Conventions including 97, 143 and 189, domesticated them in national law and implemented them in policy and practice, they would effectively address almost all of those urgent needs for reforming regular labor migration programs.  Paragraph 3.8 asks States to “consider” ratifying or acceding to the 1990 Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. We call on States that have not done so to ratify the Migrant Workers Convention now, while also emphasizing that the non-discrimination clauses mean that state parties to the ICCPR and ICESCR as well as other core UN human rights conventions (e.g. CERD, CEDAW, CRC) already have obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of migrants on their territory

We urge States to work both individually and collectively, throughout the Global Compact consultation and negotiation process, to address the issues we have outlined and to do so as part of a genuinely multi-stakeholder process.  An effective compact requires the inclusion and participation of civil society, especially including migrant and migrant-led organizations, as well as by taking advantage of the mandates, expertise and capacity of UN and other intergovernmental organizations.

We also urge States to devote greater attention to addressing drivers of forced migration and to supporting better migration and mobility choices for all.  While we focused here on improving the respect, protection and fulfillment of migrants’ rights, we want to emphasize that the ultimate goal– of the UN, of its Member States, and of global governance– must be the respect, protection and fulfillment of the human rights of all.  Looking toward achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and beyond, States and all stakeholders must take a view of the place of human mobility in the future of humanity that is both longer and broader.

Useful UN docs, statements & related resources on the human rights of migrants

Useful UN documents, statements and related resources on the protection of the human rights of migrants

This is a list of mostly relatively recent, and relatively brief, pieces in some cases specifically produced in the context of the Compact.  The list does not include the core human rights instruments and labor standards themselves.

2017 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Statement on the Duties of States towards refugees and migrants under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 13 March 2017, E/C.12/2017/1,

2010 UN Global Migration Group statement on rights of migrants in an irregular situation,

2013 Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, report to the UN General Assembly on a human-rights framework for global migration governance,, and search for symbol A/68/283

2017 Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, report to the 35th Human Rights Council on a 2035 Agenda for facilitating human mobility,

CERD General Recommendation XXX on Discrimination against non-citizens,

UNWomen recommendations for the Global Compact,

ILO Labour Standards,–en/index.htm

Global Migration Group/OHCHR Principles and Guidelines, supported by practical guidance, on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations (DRAFT),

GCM’s Intl Coordinator’s presentation at Global Compact consultation

On Monday, May 8, GCM’s International Coordinator, Monami Maulik, was one of three civil society experts chosen to speak on the Human Rights of All Migrants at the first Informal Thematic Consultation for the Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration.   In addition to Monami Maulik’s comments below (and in PDF), GCM submitted a statement on ways to ensure the protection of the human rights of migrants in the Global Compact.

First informal thematic session on “Human rights of all migrants, social inclusion, cohesion, and all forms of discrimination, including racism, xenophobia and intolerance”

Palais des Nations, Room XIX

Geneva, 8 May 2017

Panel 1. Human rights of all migrants

Monami Maulik, International Coordinator, Global Coalition on Migration

Excellencies and colleagues, particularly migrant community members and civil society friends,

I welcome this opportunity to bring forward the messages of organized migrant communities who live with the realities and work to address the impacts of the policies discussed here. The Global Coalition on Migration ( builds the central role of migrant-led organizations forming transnational and regional networks in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, together with labor, policy, and faith-based organizations.

Our perspective from the ground is a clear one: migrants are facing a human rights crisis exacerbated by increasing policies of criminalization, deterrence and externalization of borders. The Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration must be the opportunity to center the rights and dignity of migrants rather than entrench this model. In order to do this, there must be bold leadership to reframe the debate so that practical measures and actionable commitments work to uphold and respect the human rights of migrants regardless of status rather than undermine them. While many share the understanding that human mobility is nothing new and that many of us have benefited from our own migration journeys, current policies fall far short of recognizing that migration will only increase in a globalized world. This is particularly true for the ways in which language and policies view low-wage or ‘low-skilled’ migrant workers and irregular migrants. While it is important to shift the narrative to a positive one about the contribution of migrants, we must go beyond the framework of ‘harnessing’ economic benefits from migrants when a fundamental and often unacknowledged driver in the current model is the demand for cheap and exploitable labor.

It is precisely due to the lack of adequate regular and safe channels that migrants are pushed into attempting dangerous journeys where they risk exploitation and violence from State and non-State actors. States militarize and externalize borders – deploying policies from push-backs and border closures, to detention (including of families and children), to expedited removal procedures that are punitive and disregard human rights. These deterrence policies are ineffective when the demands for low-wage labor remain in destination countries. What deterrence and criminalization policies do succeed in is to render migrants even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Millions of low-wage and irregular migrant workers and their families—domestic and care workers, farmworkers, service and construction workers—live precarious lives and in fear- preventing them from raising their voices, joining trade unions or accessing basic public services.

This criminalization of low-wage migrants by policies compounded with growing xenophobia and racial discrimination allows migrants to continue to be used as scapegoats by nationalist and populist agendas as a diversion from deeper economic, social and political transitions within many receiving societies.

In working towards a Global Compact that will seek to achieve the lofty goals expressed in the New York Declaration, our members across regions stress the importance of ensuring that the human rights and labor rights of migrants are a cross-cutting concern in all consultations, at multi-stakeholder hearings, in stock-taking and during negotiation of the Global Compact itself. Practical measures to make migration more “safe, regular and orderly” alone will not be enough to protect human rights and dignity in migration, but there are important ways in which protecting migrants’ human rights can contribute to making migration more “safe, regular and orderly”.


This Compact must be based in existing international human rights instruments and labor standards including the most widely ratified international human rights instruments. It is incorrect that there is no real international legal framework for protecting the human rights of migrants. The protection of the human rights of migrants is contained within the same instruments that protect the human rights of all—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as the core UN conventions. With their clauses prohibiting discrimination, these instruments are sources of states’ obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of migrants on their territory;

Second, practical guidance means creating increased safe and regular channels including familybased immigration, access to identity documents and means of regularization including paths to citizenship for those in irregular status already within countries; Moreover, increased regular channels must protect labor rights:

  • When most legal temporary labor migration programs violate rights, this is not sound development strategy – this includes most current guestworker programs and in the kafala sponsorship system.
  • Labor migration programs should allow visa portability, not tie work visas to a single employer, and they should allow full freedom of association.
  • Bilateral labor migration agreements must be transparent and protect workplace rights rather than function as a race to the bottom for cheaper migrant labor from countries of origin. Instead governments and employers should gradually ratify and implement core conventions and multilateral agreements that require full protection for migrant workers’ rights;

Third, all consultations and stocktaking must ensure that the rights of migrant women and girls are at the center. The UN Women ‘Recommendations for addressing women’s human rights in the Global Compact’ provides specific, actionable recommendations to engender the compact.

Fourth, firewalls are one means of enabling migrants to access their economic, social and cultural rights (to obtain basic services like education, accommodation, and health care) as well as civil and political rights (such as access to justice and protection of the justice system). Firewalls enable migrants to access these services without fear that doing so will cause immigration enforcement agencies to detain or deport them. Firewalls are a concrete way to engender the compact since migrant women are often at the forefront of securing services for families and communities. Firewalls must be legally enforced.

We also applaud the migrant-centered perspective of the Global Migration Group Principles & Guidelines on the human rights protections of migrants in vulnerable situations within large and/or mixed movements. This migrant-centered perspective also offers practical measures and actionable commitments where civil society plays a role in monitoring and implementation at the national and local levels.

Finally, it is essential that the Global Compact process elevate genuine migrant participation. This means that, civil society and particularly migrant-led organizations ourselves must be engaged in a sustained and meaningful manner. Migrant organizations should be involved as central actors from the phases of design, development, implementation and monitoring of the Global Compact. To this end, the Global Coalition on Migration and our civil society partners are actively mobilizing to ensure that the Global Compact respects and fulfills the human rights of all migrants with concrete goals, targets and indicators for accountability – and does so in a way that will bring real change to the lives of millions.


Remarks for Discussion period:

The Human Rights Council could contribute to the process of development of the global compact by working with civil society, human rights mechanisms, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the consultation process on actionable commitments and how they can be implemented. The Council can also play a role in encouraging states to incorporate Principles and Guidelines into the Global Compact.

Lastly, it is essential to specifically call attention to regularization programs – it is very welcome that regularization was included in list of measures to be explored in the Global Compact Process. In keeping with the commitments of Member States’ in the New York Declaration while recognizing the realities of current political climates at national and regional levels, it will be strategic to achieve a rights-respecting Global Compact as a foundation for longer-term and graduated timeline of outcomes. The success of the Global Compact process, and of the global migration governance processes it launches, will depend upon the inclusion and engagement of many sectors of civil society, including grassroots migrant-led and migrant organizations and communities. Understanding regional, national and local contexts and existing best practices will be key in identifying the distinct challenges, common issues and actionable solutions in practice.

Ensuring the Human Rights of Migrants in the Global Compact

The first Thematic Consultation for the Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration was held at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland on May 8-9, 2017, on the topic of the human rights of all migrants, social inclusion and non-discrimination.  The statement below was submitted to the UN for the consultation, and is also available here as a PDF–

Ensuring Human Rs of All Migrants in the Global Compact  

In addition, GCM’s International Coordinator, Monami Maulik was one of three civil society speakers chosen to address the topic of the Human Rights of all Migrants on the first panel of the consultation; her comments are posted.

Ensuring Human Rights of All Migrants, Social Inclusion and Non-Discrimination in the Global Compact

In the New York Declaration, states reaffirmed the principles and purposes of the UN Charter and committed to “fully protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status” and “demonstrate full respect for international law and international human rights law…” as they work to improve international cooperation on migration governance.  That reaffirmation was both welcome and necessary as a point of departure for negotiating a Global Compact on Safe, Regular and Orderly migration.

In the spirit of SDG 16—to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels—good migration governance and good policy must be built on good faith inclusion of all stakeholders, grounded in fundamental respect for our common humanity and the equal dignity and rights the United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights afford.  Specifically, good migration governance and the Global Compact must be based on ratification and full implementation of the existing international human rights standards that states have crafted within the UN context over the past seven decades—and even longer, when it comes to the ILO labor standards that protect our rights at work.

Though they are addressed separately in the panels in the Thematic Consultation on the “human rights of all migrants, social inclusion, cohesion and all forms of discrimination, including racism, xenophobia and intolerance,” human rights, non-discrimination and social inclusion are inextricably connected.  Non-discrimination in the applicability of rights is at the heart of the international human rights regime and is essential to genuinely inclusive and cohesive societies.  The non-discrimination clauses in the two Covenants (and other widely ratified core human rights instruments including CEDAW, CERD and CRC) oblige states to respect, protect and fulfill the civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights of migrants on their territory; this is not an obligation that states undertake only by ratifying the Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.  Promoting gender-sensitive perspectives across all aspects of migration governance will be critical to achieving the human rights and full equality of women and girls, in keeping with Goal 5 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Human rights and social inclusion.  States cannot credibly promote the social inclusion of those they think they want to include on the one hand, while pursuing policies that pander to populist—and racist, and xenophobic—fears on the other.  If we want to talk about “changing the narrative,” we should stop referring to human beings as “illegal.”  Branding a human being as “illegal” denies his or her humanity and personhood before the law, and falsely implies that the state on whose territory he or she residing or transiting does not have obligations to protect their human rights.

On top of the violence and injustice done to those whose status is irregular, branding as “illegal” a group of human beings—especially one associated with people marked as racially or ethnically “other”—spills over and attaches to a much wider group of people, perpetuating and exacerbating social exclusion, marginalization and rights deprivations not only on the basis of status per se but also on the basis of race or ethnicity.   Cohesive societies demand social inclusion of all migrants, and respect for the human rights of all, including migrants.  As the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recently noted, “access to education and to employment are important channels for integration within the host country and will reduce the dependence of refugees or migrants on public support or private charity.”[1]

Social and human dimensions of migration.  Although the New York Declaration did not address them specifically, health, social protection, social security, child welfare, social cohesion and social dialogue are all major concerns for migrants and for migration governance, as well as for protection of all persons in their human and social nature.  Their consideration and inclusion is essential if the compact is truly to take a whole of government and whole of society approach.  Existing international instruments lay out standards for governance in each of these policy areas, with provisions explicitly addressing conditions and needs of migrants.  Neglecting human and social aspects in a global framework on migration will render it inadequate to provide necessary and effective implementation guidance for legislation, policy and practice.

Firewalls are legal and policy measures that separate public service provision from immigration enforcement, thereby promoting inclusion. They ensure that migrants can access essential services—including protection by local law enforcement for victims of crimes and witnesses—without fear that doing so will cause immigration enforcement agencies to detain or deport them.  In other words, they are an important means of enabling migrants to access their economic, social and cultural rights (to obtain basic services like education, accommodation, and health care) as well as civil and political rights (access to justice and protection of the justice system), although they are not the only ways these rights can be protected.

Access to justice for all migrants is absolutely fundamental to migrant rights and to safe, regular and orderly migration.  The fewer rights migrants can access, the more critical it is. It is a basic principle of rule of law and essential to the protection of human rights, yet lack of effective access to justice makes many migrants vulnerable to a variety of forms of abuse and exploitation—and enables perpetrators to act with immunity.  While irregular migrants face the greatest obstacles to accessing justice and redress for violations, access even by migrants in a regular situation is often very limited in law and/or practice.  Gaps in jurisdiction between countries of origin, transit and destination compound other access problems and should be specifically addressed in the compact.

Detention.  Irregular entry and/or irregular stay should be an administrative infraction rather than a criminal offense.   As an administrative offense, irregular entry or stay should therefore not warrant detention—a deprivation of the fundamental right to liberty—but we know that all too often it does.

What is more, we find that measures that should protect migrants are used against them.  Administrative detention by its nature should be non-punitive, but in fact its use often deprives migrants not only of liberty but of the most fundamental due process rights that the criminal justice system guarantees, falling into a legal black hole, effectively barred from contact from the outside world including family members and those able to provide legal assistance.  This has been shown to be seriously damaging to migrants’ mental health.

We need alternatives to detention—in the first instance, liberty, unless something else proportional is specifically required by the individual circumstances of a case.  And we need an expeditious end to all detention of children for purposes of migration status determination, with alternatives to detention for parents when this is in the best interest of the child and is necessary to keep the family unit together.

Returns.  In using their prerogative to determine who may stay on their territory as grounds to return irregular migrants to their country of origin or a third country, states must ensure that this return does not constitute refoulement as expressed in the Torture Convention, the Refugee Convention, or more broadly under customary international law.  States are obliged not to return a person to a country where she or he could reasonably expect to face serious human rights violations.  States should consider that given the stigma attached to return, especially involuntary return, such things as visits to their family home by police or immigration officials following arrival might jeopardize their standing in their community and thus their ability to provide for their livelihood and thus a sustainable life.  And that very idea of involuntary return and “reintegration” into a third country where a migrant has never been “integrated” but has only transited through is nonsensical and incompatible with fundamental rights.

States of origin and transit too have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of their citizens and those on their territory.  This includes pursuing policies that will facilitate the creation of decent work opportunities for the country’s population.  While the benefits of remittances—including millions upon millions of remittances from irregular migrants—can be useful to this process, states of origin must strive for development that gives people options for decent work at home, options to remain as well as options to migrate.

Destination states should not use bilateral agreements with states of origin and transit to condition aid on those states keeping people from leaving their territory.  Human beings have a right to leave a country, and border externalization jeopardizes this right.  Bilateral agreements may also threaten regional free mobility regimes, hampering regional development in countries of the Global South; this is critical in a world where the majority of migration takes place within regions—the vast majority in some cases.

Regularisation.  Providing opportunities for people who are already productive and law-abiding members of their communities to regularize their status and remain is preferable in many ways to involuntary return, not just for migrants but for the society as a whole, including by supporting the move from informal to formal work, which benefits workers and society as a whole. Many migrant workers lack regular status, for a variety of reasons including having had an asylum claim rejected, having experienced a change in family situation (including due to leaving an abusive partner), or having overstayed a visa after a regular entry.  Although their irregular status makes their circumstances precarious, they may be more or less integrated into their community, including through family ties, may have learned the language, etc.  In most major developed destination countries, the numbers of people—mainly working people—in such a situation will far exceed what even stepped up return policies could accommodate.  In situations where migrants prefer to remain in irregular status despite the risks it imposes, there are likely to be serious underlying problems with the restrictions of available regular pathways that should themselves be addressed.

Migrants should never have to give up human rights to get a job, and countries of origin should not have to subsidize the social costs of low wages in destination countries.  Much has been made of the demographic changes that will take place in the coming years and decades—both the labor and skills shortages that will affect many developed countries with ageing populations, and the increase in working-age populations in many developing countries beyond what domestic (and regional) labor markets are anticipated to be able to absorb.  Many proposals call for addressing these situations by promoting temporary or circular migration– increasing regular but highly restrictive opportunities for migrants to go to another country to work for a period of time, sometimes leaving and re-entering several times, but often being unable to remain, or to change employers without violating their status, or to bring family members with them.  Opportunities for regular migration under such conditions in a North-South context represent efforts to import “labor without people”—a concept antithetical to respect for human and labor rights not to mention “decent work.”  In fact, such conditions shift the costs of social reproduction and social protection from the wealthy developed states benefiting from cheap labor onto the developing states that must bear the cost of educating the migrant worker’s children, providing healthcare and other forms of social protection to the migrant worker’s family and to the worker himself or herself upon return.  This approach is incompatible not only with SDG Goal 8.8, but with the very spirit of Goal 10, to reduce inequality within and between countries, and SDG 10.7 must be read within that context.

In the coming decades, respect for human rights should imply respect for and attempts to accommodate the diverse mobility aspirations of migrants and prospective migrants to the greatest extent practical when governing and regulating human mobility.  Migrants will have diverse preferences for returning temporarily or permanently to a country of origin or another country and will often respond to labor market demands and opportunities.  Including the perspectives of migrants as stakeholders and rights-holders in the Global Compact will contribute to a cooperative and sustainable future for migration governance.

[1] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Statement on the Duties of States towards refugees and migrants under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 13 March 2017.

Check out useful UN resources and reference documents on the human rights of migrants (with links).

Global Compact Update April 27 2017

Global Compact update, April 27, 2017

United Nations site

now has updates on the Global Compact process.

They are accepting applications until May 2 to

  • Participate in the Stakeholder Steering Committee
  • Attend the 8-9 May first Thematic Consultation in Geneva

See for  information and instructions for both.

The informal thematic consultation is the first of six informal consultations to be held  between May and October and will focus on the  human rights of all migrants, social inclusion, cohesion and all forms of discrimination, including racism, xenophobia and intolerance.

These consultations are primarily for states, and include panelists from civil society and other stakeholder groups.  Each one will focus on several of the themes states committed in the New York Declaration to address.

The Global Coalition on Migration’s International Coordinator, Monami Maulik, will be one of the panelists speaking at the first consultation.

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