United Nations – Against the backdrop of rising xenophobia and growing anti- immigrant trends in Western Europe, the United Nations will commemorate International Migrants Day next week calling on member states to ratify the 1990 international convention aimed at protecting the rights of migrants worldwide.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s appeal is directed mostly at Western states – home to over 215 million migrants – which have refused to ratify a treaty obligating these countries to provide security and protection to migrant workers.
“The irregular situation of many international migrants should not deprive them either of their humanity or their rights,” he said, in advance of International Migrants Day Dec. 18.
The treaty, which came into legal force with 20 ratifications back in July 2003, has been ratified mostly by countries providing migrant workers, including Egypt, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Turkey, Ghana, Mexico, Algeria and Morocco.
The Western nations that have dodged the treaty include countries with large migrant populations – Britain, the United States, France, Germany and Italy.
In a detailed 48-page report released here, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on governments to focus during 2011 on improving protections for migrants, including ratifying the ‘International Covenant on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families’ – the official title of the treaty.
Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at HRW, said many governments make things worse with policies that aggravate discrimination or make it hard for migrants even to approach authorities for help.
She said immigration policies and protection gaps expose migrants to abuse, including labour exploitation, violence, trafficking, mistreatment in detention, and killings. Still, the countries involved offer limited recourse to seek justice, she pointed out.
The rise in xenophobia is evident mostly in Western Europe, including in countries such as France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland, and also in the United States.
Asked about declining worker remittances triggered by the global financial crisis, Varia told IPS: “From the perspective of Human Rights Watch, governments need to protect the human rights of migrants whether their economic contributions are increasing or decreasing.”
And tackling common labour rights violations such as nonpayment of wages has a positive economic impact, she added.
During times of economic hardship, Varia said, local populations may blame migrants for taking jobs, even if they are not willing to perform those jobs themselves and “governments should address xenophobic sentiment that can lead to discrimination and violence against migrants.”
According to the World Bank, remittance flows to developing countries rose from $278 billion in 2007 to $325 billion in 2008.
In 2009, however, remittances declined to $307 billion.
The countries hardest hit include Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Tajikistan, where the decline in remittance income represented between 8.0 and 16 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to the ‘World Economic Situation and Prospects 2011’, released by the United Nations last week.
In several Central American and Caribbean countries, including earthquake-devastated Haiti, the impact ranged from between 1.0 and 2.0 percent of GDP while in Southeastern European countries it was between 2.0 and 3.0 percent.
But the World Bank predicts that final figures for 2010, to be computed by the end of December, would be around $325 billion. The rising trend is expected to continue, to an estimated $346 billion in 2011 and $374 billion in 2012.
In its report, HRW points out that many countries rely on migrant workers to fill labour shortages in low-paying, dangerous, and poorly regulated jobs.
The human rights organisation has also documented labour exploitation and barriers to redress for migrants in agriculture, domestic work, and construction in Indonesia, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
“Immigration sponsorship systems in many countries give employers immense control over workers and lead to migrants being trapped in abusive situations or unable to pursue redress through the justice system,” the study said.
In the United States, hundreds of thousands of people are in detention for months or even years for civil immigration violations.
Lacking the right to a government-appointed attorney, approximately 60 percent of migrant detainees go through all court hearings without a lawyer.
HRW also found that for immigrants with mental disabilities, the lack of a lawyer means they often cannot defend their rights. Some are unjustifiably detained for years.
Meanwhile, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said all too often, the positive contributions migrants make to society are being called into question as many governments adopt short-sighted attitudes, presenting them as a burden to convalescing economies or a drain on the welfare state.
A study published earlier this year by University College London showed that newcomers from Eastern Europe paid 37 percent more in taxes than they received in benefits and from public services in 2008-09.
Many more migrants helped to provide critical public services as doctors, nurses or cleaners in the National Health Service.
In the United States, native-born citizens gain an estimated $37 billion a year from immigrants’ participation in the U.S. economy, according to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.
More than one in 10 self-employed business people in the United States is an immigrant, IOM said.
“Despite the evidence, few issues still elicit stronger reaction than that of migration,” says IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.
“From the floors of parliaments to city streets to discussions around dinner tables, there are heated debates about migrants’ impact on national identity, security, employment, health and social welfare systems – all those things that make up the fabric of a society,” he adds.
Unfortunately, many of these discussions are based on emotions and myths and not on social and economic reality.
“Migration now and in the future will be driven by global economic, social and demographic trends that can no longer be ignored,” Swing said.
One of the reasons for this steep rise will be the population decline in the world’s industrialised countries, an expected drop of nearly 25 percent by 2050, he said.
This will significantly increase the demand for migrant workers at a time when the labour force in developing countries will increase from 2.4 billion in 2005 to 3.6 billion in 2040.
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