Committee on Rights of Migrant Workers Discusses Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on Migrants and Ratification of Convention

OHCHR

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families this afternoon held an informal meeting with States and other stakeholders, during which participants discussed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on migrants, the ratification of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, and the Committee’s work, among other topics.

Committee Chairperson Can Ünver said the rights of migrant workers were frequently violated.  These abuses against migrants increased even more when they were in an irregular situation.  COVID-19 was currently wreaking havoc all over the world, affecting all and imposing new and difficult challenges for Governments.  Migrant workers and their families were in an even more vulnerable situation: they faced difficulties to access clean water and healthcare.  Yet many migrant workers had made positive responses to COVID-19 as a large percentage of migrants worked in sectors considered essential, including health, food, factories, transport, care and restaurants.  The implementation of the Convention was crucial as was its ratification by new States.  Currently, there were 56 States parties, the latest being Fiji and Togo. 

Fatimata Diallo, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, emphasised that Member States must take measures to guarantee that the response to the pandemic benefitted all, and respected migrant workers’ rights, including freedom of expression and the right not to be subjected to collective expulsion, among others.

Edgar Corzo, Committee Rapporteur, urging those present to put faces to the numbers, said some migrants faced risks because going back meant facing worse conditions.  It was important not to mistake the forest for the trees: the people coming to the borders by risking their lives did so for important reasons, which should be considered. 

Alvaro Botero Navarro, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Coordinator of draft General Comment no.  5, said the pandemic had led to violations of the human rights of migrants and their families, which it had affected disproportionately, notably those in an irregular situation. 

Mohammed Charef, Committee Member, identified areas of collaboration that reflected the goals set by the Global Compact on Migration, including creating mechanisms to monitor and anticipate risks and threats likely to affect migratory movements; and reviewing national procedures for border controls, individual assessments and interview procedures.

Myriam Poussi, Committee Member, said there were many bilateral migration management agreements between the G5 Sahel countries or between them and other countries, especially European ones.  The approach of the G5 Sahel countries through these initiatives was based on the premise that migration should not be examined from the sole point of view of security, but also be considered as a phenomenon that could contribute to development. 

Khaled Babacar, Committee Member, noting that 73 per cent of migrants were workers, said migration flows led to all kinds of exploitation.  International Labour Organization standards on migration empowered countries that sent or received migrants to manage migration flows and ensure adequate protection for this vulnerable category of workers. 

In the ensuing discussion, speakers said this global crisis had highlighted that inclusion pays and exclusion costs.  To recover, access to basic services for every child, regardless of migratory status, must be ensured.  Stressing that they valued the work of the Committee, speakers noted that migrant workers were among groups most affected by the pandemic.  Migrants had to be included in social protection and recovery plans; and States must, in their response plans, duly prevent and punish racial, ethnic and national discrimination and hate crimes and provide effective remedies to victims.

Speaking in the discussion were the United Nations Children’s Fund, Mexico,

UN Women, International Organization for Migration, Indonesia, Colombia and Venezuela.

Also taking the floor were the following national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations: Azerbaijan Ombudsman Office, Global Detention Project, and National Human Rights Commission of Nepal.

In their response to questions and comments, Committee Experts noted the scarce participation of countries receiving migrants, such as the European Union countries and the United States.  Convincing them to ratify the Convention had been a significant challenge, since its entry into force.  The Committee had to work on a communication strategy to gain visibility, they noted. 

Mr. Ünver, in his concluding remarks, said migration should be a positive and challenging experience for individuals and their societies – an experience that contributed to economic progress and human development, both at home and in destination countries.  A clear vision of the needs for migrant labour in destination countries, with more channels for regular migration and family reunification, would greatly help to prevent the exploitation and other dangers faced by so many people seeking to live with dignity.  Further efforts must also be made to address the root causes of desperate flight attempts.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 16 April, in the afternoon to close its thirty-second session. 

Statements by Committee Members

CAN ÜNVER, Committee Chairperson, said the management of migration flows, international protection, smuggling and trafficking of migrants, as well as other factors affecting migration, called for the implementation of a comprehensive approach that put the human rights of migrants first.  The rights of migrant workers were frequently violated.  These abuses against migrants increased even more when they were in an irregular situation.  COVID-19 was currently wreaking havoc all over the world, affecting all and imposing new and difficult challenges for Governments.  Migrant workers and their families were in an even more vulnerable situation: they faced difficulties to access clean water and healthcare.  Yet many migrant workers had made positive responses to COVID-19 as a large percentage of migrants worked in sectors considered essential, including health, food, factories, transport, care and restaurants.  The Committee had noted with great concern that a significant number of migrants had been deported or returned from various countries in the COVID-19 context.

The implementation of the Convention was crucial as was its ratification by new States.  Currently, there were 56 States parties, the latest being Fiji and Togo.  The Committee noted that to date, 18 States parties had not yet submitted their initial and periodic reports due under article 73 of the Convention.   The Committee continued to adopt inter-sessionally and virtually core-mandated activities.  It had adopted, under silence procedure, eight core-mandated documents, including six lists of issues prior to reporting, one list of issues and one follow-up report to concluding observations.  It had also adopted two guidance notes, the first one on 26 May 2020 regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the human rights of migrants, and the second one concerning the equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all migrants.  It had also issued a number of public statements either separately or jointly with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and Inter-American and African regional human rights mechanisms.

Mr. Ünver raised concern over a possible erosion of the treaty body system in the absence of coordinated action and support from Member States.  The Committee requested that the General Assembly seriously consider the matter and ensure that the treaty body system was appropriately funded by the regular budget of the United Nations to enable it to discharge its full mandate.

FATIMATA DIALLO, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, said the pandemic had had a significant impact on the rights of migrant workers.  The response to the pandemic must include migrant workers without discrimination.  The Convention enshrined the right to leave any State, even though it could be restricted under legal grounds in keeping with other rights protected by the Convention.  As per the Convention, migrant workers also had the right to receive emergency healthcare.  She emphasised that Member States must take measures to guarantee that the pandemic response benefited all, and respected migrant workers’ rights, including freedom of expression and the right not to be subjected to collective expulsion.

EDGAR CORZO, Committee Rapporteur, urging those present to put faces to the numbers, said some migrants faced risks because going back meant facing worse conditions.  It was important not to mistake the forest for the trees: the people coming to the borders by risking their lives did so for important reasons, which should be considered.  Each person should wonder if Governments had not failed to create conditions that would not push people to migrate.  Climate change was also a factor, he stressed.

ALVARO BOTERO NAVARRO, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Coordinator of General Comment no.5, said the pandemic had led to violations of the human rights of migrants and their families, which it had affected disproportionately, notably those in an irregular situation.  It was important to remember these were human beings first and foremost.  Further, they had made a valuable contribution to the response against the pandemic.  The Committee urged that States guaranteed their access to health and social services.  As many people as possible should be freed, and the temporary suspension of deportations should be considered, he said.

MOHAMMED CHAREF, Committee Member, said this global pandemic had only exacerbated, worsened, amplified, stirred up and above all exposed an already appalling and exasperating situation.  He identified areas of collaboration that reflected the goals set by the Global Compact on Migration, including creating mechanisms to monitor and anticipate risks and threats likely to affect migratory movements; and reviewing national procedures for border controls, individual assessments and interview procedures.

MYRIAM POUSSI, Committee Member, said that like many other young Africans, those in the G5 Sahel region believed that they had no other choice but to flee the scourges afflicting the region.  There were many bilateral migration management agreements between the G5 Sahel countries or between them and other countries, especially European ones.  The approach of the G5 Sahel countries through these initiatives was based on the premise that migration should not be examined from the sole point of view of security, but also be considered as a phenomenon that could contribute to development.  From this stemmed the commitment of the G5 Sahel countries to work for safe, orderly and regular migration as advocated for by the Marrakech Covenant.

KHALED BABACAR, Committee Member, noting that 73 per cent of migrants were workers, said migration flows led to all kinds of exploitation.  International Labour Organization standards on migration empowered countries that sent or received migrants to manage migration flows and ensure adequate protection for this vulnerable category of workers.  The Member States of the United Nations were invited today more than ever to ratify and implement relevant International Labour Organization Conventions, such as Convention nos.  97 and 143.

Discussion

United Nations Children’s Fund said this global crisis had highlighted that inclusion pays and exclusion costs.  To recover, access to basic services for every child, regardless of migratory status, must be ensured.  No one was safe until all were safe, and yet less than half of all National Vaccine Deployment Plans explicitly included migrants and displaced people.  It was critical that children on the move be protected along all stages of their journey.  Migrant and displaced children must be heard and empowered to reach their potential.

Mexico, stressing that it valued the work of the Committee, said migrant workers were among groups most affected by the pandemic.  During the pandemic, the migrant community in Mexico had increased its remittances by 10 per cent, showing that migrants increasingly acted as drivers of development.   Comprehensive, human rights-based policies were needed to address issues that migrants faced.  In that context, both the Convention and the Global Compact were crucial, as were their synergies.

UN Women, recognizing the work of the Committee in addressing the situation of migrant women and girls, said migrant women faced more precarious work conditions, and, in the context of the pandemic, they had been confronted with greater adverse economic problems, earning less and saving less. 

Azerbaijan National Human Rights Institution stressed the need to protect the rights of all population groups.  The Azerbaijan Ombudsman had emphasised the need for migrants to access healthcare in the face of the pandemic, and had recommended raising awareness of the situation of migrants.  The work of the Committee was valuable to national human rights institutions.

International Organization for Migration said the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated all vulnerabilities, intersecting with factors such as gender, age, disability or migration status.  Some priority axes in this regard for the International Organization for Migration were the following: the rights at the borders must not be eroded; alternatives to detention must be sought; migrants had to be included in social protection and recovery plans; and States must, in their  response plans, duly prevent and punish racial, ethnic and national discrimination and hate crimes and provide effective remedies to victims.

Indonesia, noting that the pandemic had affected migrants the world over, said measures taken in the context of the pandemic should complement those taken as part of the implementation of the Convention.  Noting that there were only 56 States parties to the Convention, Indonesia said it would contribute to efforts to promote it.

Colombia, stressing the need to respect the rights of migrant workers regardless of their status, said a special status, which granted permanent residency, had been given to more than 1.6 million Venezuelans in Colombia.  This status provided access to healthcare, notably, and sought to integrate them in the economy.  The Committee’s work was relevant and useful, Colombia added.

Global Detention Project reiterated the eagerness expressed by many for the imminent publication of the General Comment no.  5 on migrants’ rights to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention.  This General Comment would be a critical piece that could contribute to upholding the rights of migrants.  It was crucial that States assessed the necessity and proportionality of detention of migrants.

Venezuela, underlining the value of the work of the Committee, said that Venezuela was subject to unilateral coercive measures aiming to destroy its economy and undermine its sovereignty.  This had led to an outflow of migrants.  Some of them had returned to the country because of a lack of opportunities and access to healthcare in neighbouring countries.

National Human Rights Commission of Nepal said efforts had been made to protect the rights of migrants, such as monitoring the detention of migrants.  Memoranda of understanding had been signed with Qatar and Malaysia.  The National Human Rights Institution had made recommendations to the Government to foster the protection of the rights of migrant workers.

Responses and Concluding Remarks

In response to the questions and comments, Committee Experts noted the scarce participation in the discussion of countries receiving migrants, such as the European Union and the United States.  Convincing them to ratify the Convention had been a significant challenge, since its entry into force.  The Committee had to work on a communication strategy to gain visibility, they noted. 

Some Experts welcomed the best practices shared by national human rights institutions, notably those related to regional cooperation amongst them.  The rights of migrant workers were human rights, and the best way to combat irregular migration was through the establishment of regular migration channels, they emphasised. 

CAN ÜNVER, Committee Chairperson, in his concluding remarks, said migration should be a positive and challenging experience for individuals and their societies – an experience that contributed to economic progress and human development, both at home and in destination countries.  A clear vision of the needs for migrant labour in destination countries, with more channels for regular migration and family reunification, would greatly help to prevent the exploitation and other dangers faced by so many people seeking to live with dignity.  Further efforts must also be made to address the root causes of desperate flight attempts.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/04/committee-rights-migrant-workers-discusses-effects-covid-19

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