Statement of the Global Migration Group on the Human Rights of Migrants in Irregular Situation

Principals of the Global Migration Group, assembled in Geneva
on 30 September 2010, have adopted the following statement:

The Global Migration Group* (GMG) is deeply concerned about the
human rights of international migrants in an irregular situation
around the globe. Although the number of migrants without proper
legal status in transit or host countries is unknown, they are
estimated to be in the tens of millions worldwide.

Migrants in an irregular situation are more likely to face
discrimination, exclusion, exploitation and abuse at all stages of
the migration process. They often face prolonged detention or
ill-treatment, and in some cases enslavement, rape or even murder.
They are more likely to be targeted by xenophobes and racists,
victimized by unscrupulous employers and sexual predators, and can
easily fall prey to criminal traffickers and smugglers. Rendered
vulnerable by their irregular status, these men, women and children
are often afraid or unable to seek protection and relief from the
authorities of countries of origin, transit or destination.

Children, especially those unaccompanied and separated, are
particularly at risk. Furthermore, children can be banned from
classrooms or denied their fundamental rights, even as their
parents work and contribute to the economies of host countries and
thus contribute to raising the standards of living and human
development for those societies. Migrants in an irregular situation
are often denied even the most basic labor protections, due process
guarantees, personal security, and healthcare. Female migrants in
these situations face greater risk of sexual exploitation, gender
based violence, HIV transmission, multiple discriminations and
specific challenges in access to employment, and health services,
including reproductive healthcare. People who leave their own
countries because their lives and liberty are at risk are often
obliged to move in an irregular manner and find it increasingly
difficult to seek and obtain refugee status.

Too often, States have addressed irregular migration solely
through the lens of sovereignty, border security or law
enforcement, sometimes driven by hostile domestic constituencies.
Although States have legitimate interests in securing their borders
and exercising immigration controls, such concerns cannot, and
indeed, as a matter of international law do not, trump the
obligations of the State to respect the internationally guaranteed
rights of all persons, to protect those rights against abuses, and
to fulfill the rights necessary for them to enjoy a life of dignity
and security.

The fundamental rights of all persons, regardless of their
migration status, include:

  • The right to life, liberty and security of the person and to be
    free from arbitrary arrest or detention, and the right to seek and
    enjoy asylum from persecution;
  • The right to be free from discrimination based on race, sex,
    language, religion, national or social origin, or other
  • The right to be protected from abuse and exploitation, to be
    free from slavery, and from involuntary servitude, and to be free
    from torture and from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
  • The right to a fair trial and to legal redress;
  • The right to protection of economic, social and cultural
    rights, including the right to health, an adequate standard of
    living, social security, adequate housing, education, and just and
    favorable conditions of work; and
  • Other human rights as guaranteed by the international human
    rights instruments1 to which the State is party and by
    customary international law.

Protecting these rights is not only a legal obligation; it is
also a matter of public interest and intrinsically linked to human

The GMG calls upon States to review the situation of migrants in
an irregular situation within their territories and to work towards
ensuring that their laws and regulations conform with and promote
the realization of the applicable international human rights
standards and guarantees at all stages of the migration process.
The GMG recognizes the difficulties many States face and stands
ready to continue to support them in their efforts to ensure the
effective implementation of appropriate legislation, including
through capacity development.

The GMG further calls on States, civil society, the private
sector, the media and host communities to address the demand side
of trafficking and exploitation, to work actively to combat
xenophobia, racism and incitement to discrimination in national
politics and in public discourse, to protect all migrants, as well
as to actively promote tolerant societies in which every person can
enjoy his or her human rights, regardless of migration status.

The GMG continues to work with States, civil society and the
social partners to address the obstacles faced by all international
migrants, including those in irregular situations, to enjoy
effectively their human rights. Further, the GMG will continue to
support efforts to address the root causes of irregular migration
by, among other things, promoting social and economic development
to reduce migration pressures and the expansion of channels for
regular migration. In addition, the GMG will continue to support
prevention, cooperation and protection measures in respect of
trafficking and smuggling of human beings.

The irregular situation which international migrants may find
themselves in should not deprive them either of their humanity or
of their rights. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
states: "all human beings are born free and
equal in dignity and rights"

*The Global Migration Group (GMG) is an inter-agency group
bringing together 14 agencies (12 United Nations agencies, the
World Bank, and the International Organization for Migration) to
promote the application of relevant international instruments and
norms relating to migration, and to encourage the adoption of more
coherent, comprehensive and better coordinated approaches to the
issue of international migration.

1 Including the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers
and Members of Their Families, the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,
the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the ILO conventions on
labour migration, the Convention Relating to the Status of
Refugees, and others.