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UN Human Rights Council: Panel on technical cooperation to promote and protect the human rights of all migrants

Annual Discussion on technical cooperation and capacity building

We welcome this panel on technical cooperation to promote and protect the human rights of all migrants.

Cooperation to ensure a coherent international response to migration issues is sorely needed, particularly in light of regional and global responses that are all too often fragmented, incoherent and in violation of international human rights standards.

The High Commissioner notes in his report that “exclusionary and xenophobic political rhetoric has spread around the world, fuelling intolerance and resentment of migrants, often leading to acts of violence, hate crimes and hate speech.”

In Europe, migrants have been variously likened to cockroaches, swarms of insects, or to destructive tidal waves.  The recent EU-Turkey deal baldly states that “all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey,” and then tries to obfuscate by asserting that these will not be collective expulsions. What sort of individual assessment of claims has the predetermined result that everyone will be returned? Then, the deal crassly reduces Syrian asylum seekers and refugees to commodities of trade, under a “one-in, a different one-out” plan that fails to take appropriate account of individual circumstances or the fundamental right to seek asylum.

What States need to recognize is that behind the statistics are real human beings, some fleeing persecution and abuse, some fleeing poverty and starvation, and some seeking a better life, but all – without exception – entitled to be treated with the basic dignity and respect that is the birthright of every human being.

The EU-Turkey deal appears to be modeled on Australia’s policy of rejecting asylum seekers arriving irregularly by boat and using refugee resettlement as part of a migration control scheme rather than as part of a global humanitarian system of responsibility sharing. Sending people seeking asylum to remote detention camps in the Pacific is an illegitimate attempt to outsource Australia’s legal obligations under the Refugee Convention. 

By Australian design, asylum seekers are held on remote Pacific islands in dirty, overcrowded conditions, where there have been reports of sexual and physical abuse, and where refugees have few prospects for resettlement.

Australia has even boasted that it has set the world standard for the treatment of migrants. Sadly, that increasingly appears to be true. But it is not a race to the bottom.

We welcome, by contrast, the statement of Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister at the high level segment of the current session, when he said:

"What we see today is the proliferation of the misguided belief that diversity— cultural, religious, ethnic, political, social and other forms of diversity—is a threat. … Canada is strong not in spite of its diversity, but because of it. It is because we Canadians believe that diversity makes us stronger that we welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees in a few months. We have promised to do more. Canada strongly believes that these individuals will contribute to the Canadian fabric and help build a pluralistic, diverse and inclusive society. Yes, diversity, with full respect for universal human rights, strengthens humanity." 

Migrant workers strengthen societies and provide an invaluable source of labour yet too often are denied the basic labour protections that the rest of society takes for granted.

There is a need for a new global dialogue, one that recognizes migration not as a problem, but as a source of strength. The Human Rights Council can, and should, play a leadership role in such a dialogue, but is currently underperforming. Today’s panel is welcome, but the only follow-up anticipated is a summary of the discussion. Migrants deserve more. 

We would welcome the panelists’ views on whether an annual panel, special session, experts’ meeting, technical guidelines, or other mechanism for implementation and follow-up, can best ensure that the Council brings to these issues the dedicated and sustained attention they demand.

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