Muscat: The contributions of migrants are multifaceted. With their hard work they have been supporting the social, economic and cultural foundations of societies across the world.
Many countries have prospered with their help and yet a majority of these migrants — out of some 214 million people living, working, raising families — are struggling for survival.
While most of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) observed International Migrants Day (December 18) with calls and programmes on the achievements of and for migrant workers, it should not be forgotten that the persistent challenge of the global economic downturn creates a climate of instability, which has doubled their woes. It can be seen that migrant workers are the most vulnerable group as they are strongly affected by economic shocks. In normal conditions too they are discriminated against because of their status. However, this treatment worsens in times of major crises. Often, they are blamed for causing instability to economy and society.
This state of apathy calls for a comprehensive approach that not only addresses the working conditions of migrant workers but also of local workers in migrant-receiving countries. Instead of pitting migrant and local workers against each other, it is time to strike at the systemic roots of inequality that promote social and economic injustice.
Although migrant domestic workers are still part of a system of invisible workers — either mostly women or members of minority groups — they are becoming more empowered and breaking free from the bounded labour. They are fighting for fair wages, rest days, freedom of association and simply to be treated as human beings. But, still, we can see that only Uruguay, Philippines and Mauritius have ratified International Labour Organisation C89 R201, which is a significant milestone in the formal recognition for labour rights of domestic workers as the initial initiative was taken over 50 years ago.
As per recent media reports, migrants all across the world, particularly irregular migrants, are increasingly becoming targets of strict border controls, detention and deportation practices.
They are detained on administrative grounds, which include lack of required employment and residency permits, identity documents and the like.
"We echo the calls of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants for access to justice, strong procedural safeguards, attention to the special needs of vulnerable migrants, denunciation of detention as a punitive measure, and the authoritative declaration that detention of migrants should be the last resort," representatives of Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) secretariat, a regional network of non-government organisations (NGOs), associations and trade unions of migrant workers, and individual advocates in Asia who are committed to protect and promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers, wrote to Times of Oman in a email.
MFA believes migrants' rights are human rights. Documented or undocumented, irrespective of race, gender, class, age and religious belief, migrant workers' rights are guaranteed by the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and other international conventions.
"We call on the global community to recognise and protect the rights of migrants in irregular situations. Resolution 3499 of the UN General Assembly (1975) affirms that no human being is illegal. Regardless of their immigration status or nationality, all migrants have inalienable human rights that States are required to respect and uphold in the exercise of their sovereignty over all who reside within their geographical jurisdiction," the MFA added.
"The initiative of the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families in drafting the general comment on the rights of migrant workers in irregular situation was a commendable move, which provides the normative framework for the protection of the rights of migrant workers in an irregular situation and members of their families," MFA says.
A growing number of people are migrating internationally, following increasingly complex and sometimes clandestine migration routes. Many migrants like 'stranded migrants' — migrants who become "stuck" in the course of their migration, either in transit or receiving countries fall outside of the traditional classifications of 'economic migrant', 'refugee', and 'asylum seeker' — definitions used to categorically determine what (if any) assistance or protection can be provided to them.
The ongoing conflict in Syria and some parts of Middle East and the aftermath of the natural disasters in Japan and Thailand in 2011 are examples where migrants are caught in the turmoil, affecting their legal status and personal safety, security, and wellbeing.
"In the current context, we reiterate our concern regarding the way the tendency of some states to criminalise irregular migration. Crossing a border without the required documentation or overstaying a visa is not per se a crime, but rather at most, an administrative offence. Measures that criminalise irregular migration include the enactment of laws that penalise migrants in an irregular situation and persons that assist migrants; the use of excessive and disproportionate force during migration control operations; the detention of migrants in an irregular situation; deportations without procedural guarantees; and also xenophobic statements in which authorities and the media encourage the stigmatization of migrants. In addition to being contrary to human rights and increasing the vulnerability of migrants, these measures have not been proven effective in deterring irregular migration," François Crépeau, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants; Abdelhamid El Jamri, Chairperson of the United Nations Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW); Felipe Gonzalez, Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organisation of American States (OAS); Maya Sahli Fadel, Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) of the African Union (AU), said in a joint statement issued to Times of Oman.
Detention of migrants
"In this sense, we express our deep concern for the increasing use of detention of migrants by some states. This situation is of even greater concern because detention is often applied to children. Respect for the right to liberty implies that liberty is the rule and detention, the exception. States have the obligation to establish a presumption in favour of liberty in domestic law. The automatic, mandatory or punitive use of migrant detention not only violates migrants' right to liberty, but also affects others of their human rights. The exceptionality of administrative detention of migrants also applies to asylum seekers, refugees, stateless persons and other persons in need of international protection. We call on States to gradually abolish the administrative detention of migrants and establish alternative measures to detention, applying human rights based approach," the experts added.
Global experts and bodies are reaffirming that the protection of the human rights of migrants requires the adoption of various measures by States.
Global experts are urging the States to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, as well as other international and regional human rights treaties for their well being. In parallel to ratifying these instruments, States should also guarantee that their policies, laws and practices on migration conform to their international human rights obligations, which will provide dignity and rights to migrants, experts say.