UN officials and experts met on September 4, 2013 to discuss the need for human rights to be prioritized by governments when making policies about immigration. Officials agreed that humanity should be the focus of the immigration debate.

Immigrants often lack the official documentation that citizens possess, so they often go without legal protection out of fear of deportation. Yet, if the 215 million migrants living in marginalized pockets all over the world came together to form a country of their own, it would be the fifth most populous country in the world. Imagine a country with the population of Brazil, where none of the people were guaranteed human rights. If that situation seems problematic, then it is time to think about human rights for migrants.

Top UN Human Rights Official, Navi Pillay, suggested that governments should think of immigration as a human issue, rather than an economic or a political issue. Human rights should be the central focus of government immigration policies if they are to be effective.

Pillay stresses that for migrants, their journeys and working conditions are becoming more perilous, making human rights standards for migrants an increasingly important priority. Women should not have to suffer domestic violence, and workers should not have to accept exploitation out of fear that seeking help from the law would lead to deportation. Families should not have to live without healthcare, and children without education, just because they are migrants. Pillay also argues that migrant populations should have a say in drafting the policies that affect them, like public housing provisions and measures to counter racism and hate crimes.

Migration is as much a human rights issue as it is a global one. The UN agency reported that the lack of international discussions about migration leaves a glaring hole in global governance, and that the UN must mandate a multi-stakeholder standing body to protect the human rights of migrants all over the world. In arguing that humanity should be the focus of the immigration debate, the UN has attempted to change the way in which the global community views this ever-present issue.

Jennifer Bills

Sources: UN News, Internet World Stats