“Our world is shaped by migration, as generation after generation have travelled across the globe, carrying their ideas – and their objects – with them.” – Nathan Mannion, Epic The Irish Emigration Museum
Since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has constantly been on the move whether it is in search of labour and economic opportunities, for family reasons, to study or to escape conflict, persecution, terrorism, or human rights violations. There are also people who choose to move elsewhere due to the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters, or other environmental factors. While many individuals migrate out of choice, others however migrate out of necessity. Today, there are approximately 68 million forcibly displaced people, including over 25 million refugees, 3 million asylum seekers and over 40 million internally displaced persons. As per a UN report, the number of migrants reached 258 million in 2017 compared to 173 million in 2000. However, the proportion of international migrants in the world population is slightly higher than figures recorded over the past decades, equalling 3.4% in 2017 compared to 2.8% in 2000.
Who is a migrant?
“Everybody has the same rights at the start and at the end. So why do people discriminate against each other?” – Farasat, a migrant
The UN Migration Agency (IOM) defines a migrant as “any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of (1) the person’s legal status; (2) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; (3) what the causes for the movement are; or (4) what the length of the stay is.”
Migrants choose to move mainly to improve their lives in search of work, or in some cases for educational reasons or family matters. Established in 1951, IOM is the leading inter-governmental organisation in the field of migration which aims at ensuring the orderly and humane management of migration in which no one gets penalised. In 2016, IOM joined hands with the United Nations and, following an agreement, it became one of the specialized agencies of United Nations. In order to promote diversity and the inclusion of migrants in the global village we live in today, IOM has put forward the platform ‘I am a migrant,’ which features individuals’ accounts with insights into the experiences of migrants coming from different backgrounds and their migratory journeys.
Today, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the UN acknowledges the contribution of migration to sustainable development. The Agenda’s main principle is to “leave no one behind,” including migrants and the core priority of migration is to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people. This involves the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.
Who is a refugee?
“To be called a refugee is the opposite of an insult; it is a badge of strength, courage, and victory.” – Tennessee Office for Refugees
Throughout the 21st century, a debate arose about whether it is a “migrant” or a “refugee” crisis. These two terms are completely different and distinct, and it is important for us, citizens of this era, to understand the difference as conflating refugees and migrants can be problematic for the lives and safety of people fleeing persecutions or conflicts.
According to the UNHRC, refugees are “people who cannot return to their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of persecution, conflict, violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order, and who, as a result, require international protection.”
Any individual who moves between countries undoubtedly deserves full respect for their human rights and human dignity. However, refugees are a particularly defined and protected group in international law. The condition of refugees is often so arduous and intolerable that they are left with no other choice but to cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries. Very often, they cannot retrace their steps as the situation in their country of origin is still critical. The 1951 Refugee Convention, the 1967 Protocol as well as other legal texts such as the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention remain the backbone of modern refugee protection. The 1951 Convention defines who a refugee is and outlines the basic rights countries should consider for them. One of the core principles laid down in international law is that “refugees should not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom would be under threat.”
Credits: UNHCR/Andrew McConnell
More a boon than a bane
“Migrants are often targeted as a threat, while in reality they contribute to the prosperity of the host countries where they live and work.” – Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in persons
In 2017, the number of international migrants worldwide reached a total of 258 million compared to 244 million in 2015. Female migrants constituted 48% of the international migrant stock and there is an estimated 36.1 million migrant children out of which 4.4 million consisted of international students and 15.3 million of migrant workers. Migration is a positive and empowering experience as they can help boost economic growth, undermine inequalities and connect diverse communities. Migrants are today one in every 30 people in the world and the majority lives and works legally, thus contributing to both their home and host countries. On a quest for better lives for themselves and their families and for better work opportunities, they are willing to take jobs that locals very often cannot and do not want to fulfil. The primary challenge here is to maximise the benefits of this productive form of migration while sheltering them from abuses and prejudices that make their lives hell. This depends significantly on us, the policies we implement, and our leaders. If authorities impose barriers to migrants’ labour needs, they will only be encouraging illegal migration. If they instead choose to implement legal pathways for migrants, this will only establish an atmosphere of justice, peace and prosperity.
Credits : United Nations/Instagram
Everyone has the right to belong
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”– Martin Luther King Jr.
Migrants and especially refugees tend to be vulnerable as they face discrimination, exploitation and marginalisation. As a matter of fact, they found themselves deprived of their basic human rights and fundamental freedom. But migrants are humans, refugees are humans and each of them deserve equal treatment. Human rights violations against migrants can involve a denial of civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights such as the rights to health, housing or education.
Today, OHCHR – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights works “to promote, protect and fulfill the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their status, with a particular focus on those women, men and children who are most marginalised and at risk of human rights violations.” What is crucial to remember is that we are all born equal whatever may be our country of origin or citizenship.
The only difference is that some are born under less fortunate circumstances and they are not the ones to be blamed. Instead, they should be glorified for their strength and courage to move out of their comfort zone and start from scratch. The least we can do is to allow them space and let them live without any tag or prejudice that in most cases, only make things harder for them.
At the end of the day, if we want to move forward in the right direction and build a better world for us and generations to come, we have to stick together and lift others to rise and survive.