69th Session of the UN General Assembly Agenda Item 68: Human Rights

Published Date: 
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Michele Klein Solomon, Permanent Observer to the United Nations

Madam Chair, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

IOM would like to make a few brief comments on the Secretary-General’s report on the promotion and protection of human rights, including ways and means to promote the human rights of migrants.

Madam Chair,

We are currently living through a period of the greatest human mobility in history. One in every seven people on the planet today – roughly one billion people – have migrated either across or within borders.

For most of those people, migration means the opportunity for a better life for them and their families. For some, however, the search for such opportunity comes at an extremely high cost, as they face unimaginable dangers at the hands of unscrupulous recruiters, smugglers, or traffickers along their journeys or abuse and exploitation at their places of transit or destination, including by employers. These costs tend to affect poorer and lower skilled migrants the most. Of those, migrant children and adolescents are at a particularly high risk of human rights violations and abuses, as the Secretary-General’s report has noted.

The paradox is that at a time of such significant human mobility, we are seeing increasingly harsh and restrictive responses to migration in the developed world. Even in countries that have in the past taken pride in being called a "migrant society" or a "nation of migrants”, there are some who are no longer sure they want to welcome migrants arriving at their borders today. Sadly, these responses are often driven by unfounded negative public perceptions of migrants; by harmful stereotypes, discrimination and xenophobia.

These harsh responses create many unintended and manifestly negative consequences. Limited opportunities for safe and regular migration drives would-be migrants into the hands of smugglers and traffickers, feeding an unscrupulous trade that threatens the lives of desperate people. Overly securitized responses create conditions in which human rights abuses are more likely, and leave migrants vulnerable to a range of types of violence. Tragically, many people die. 

Earlier this month, IOM launched the publication Fatal Journeys, the first of what will become an annual report on the loss of life at border crossings. IOM estimates that globally, at least 4,077 migrants have died in 2014 to date, and more than 40,000 are estimated to have died since 2000 attempting to cross international borders. These figures only reveal part of the problem. Many migrant deaths occur in remote regions of the world and are never reported.

Madam Chair, we need to put an end to this cycle.

IOM recognizes that governments have the sovereign right to determine which non-nationals may enter and remain in their territories and under what conditions. However, that determination – and the processes associated with it – must be carried out in accordance with all relevant international legal standards, including those found in international human rights law. All migrants, irrespective of their legal status, are entitled to protection as human beings under international human rights law, and some are due additional protections under international refugee law, international humanitarian law, transnational organized crime conventions, consular law and various regional instruments. It is essential that they be provided with effective protection and assistance in a systematic, comprehensive and integrated way. IOM has repeatedly emphasized the need for smarter, ‘high road’ policies to end the horror of migrant deaths, and to guarantee safe and regular ways for migrants to reach their destinations, with full regard given to promoting and protecting migrants’ human rights.

OHCHR’s Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights at International Borders – which IOM was pleased to contribute to – provide a useful guide for governments and practitioners, including in relation to rescue and interception, immediate assistance, screening and interviewing, return or removal and cooperation and coordination, amongst others.

IOM incorporates human rights protection in its activities and projects worldwide, including on border management. We undertake capacity building initiatives to sensitize border officials to international human rights and refugee law, amongst others, and to train them to properly identify and address the needs of vulnerable migrants. We assist States to improve the governance of their border and overall migration management regimes, including by promoting adherence to international standards, particularly concerning human rights protection.

However, as recent tragedies continue to illustrate, it is clear that we all need to do much, much more. It is IOM’s hope that our discussions at the UN will help propel us all to take further immediate, collective action.

Thank you.