By Baher Kamal for IPS – InterPressService
MADRID, Dec 2022 (IPS) – When tens of thousands of Europeans had to flee the horrors of two born-in-Europe devastating armed conflicts that attracted other powers: the World Wars I and II, they migrated to the Americas and other Western countries in search of safe haven.
Upon their arrival at their destination, they were checked at the border and admitted to enter as useful workforce.
Seldom, if ever, anybody classified them as “illegal” migrants. Those human beings were fleeing the horrors of those wars.
Due to persistent lack of safe and regular migration pathways, millions continue to take perilous journeys each year. Since 2014 more than 50,000 migrants have lost their lives on migratory routes across the world
Now that millions of people are forced to flee the horrors not only of wars but also of additional waves of devastation, from a climate emergency they did not create to a train of world’s financial crisis originated in and by the world’s most industrialised -and richest- powers, these migrants are classified as “illegal.”
There have been different approaches to get around what the right to far-right political parties in Europe, the United States, Australia, among several others, call “invasion,” a “threat to our civilisation,” “our democracy,” and “our religion,” let alone that they represent a “high risk of terrorism.”
Here, there is an open message from the rich West to these poor migrants: ‘don’t you dare come here, unless….’
Unless you bring money: in the aftermath of the 2008 world financial crisis, several industrialised countries followed the example of the by then United Kingdom’s government, i.e., migrants were admitted provided they have money enough to buy a property and open a sound bank account;
Unless you are highly skilled: another criteria used to admit migrants depends on their professional, useful capacity;
And unless you are “like us”: such is the case of the tens of thousands of human beings attempting to escape the horrors of another, absolutely condemnable war, the European proxy war unfolding in Ukraine. Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, referred to Ukrainians as “they look like us… they are like us.”
If migrants do not enjoy these conditions, they are immediately called “illegal,” and thus non-admitted. And those who had already arrived are being sweept away from the US and Europe.
Why such a race to expel migrants?
The trend to expel migrants has steadily increased in this year 2022, coincidently –or not– proxy war in Ukraine started in February, pushing millions of Ukrainian citizens to flee the horrors of this condemnable armed conflict.
All Western countries, in particular Europe, have opened their doors to those millions of migrants and refugees, to whom all sorts of humanitarian assistance are rightly provided.
In contrast, millions of other human beings are fleeing horror, looking for ways to survive and a job that allows their families and themselves to stay alive.
Migrants workers “dehumanised”
“Migrant workers are often dehumanised”, said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Volker Türk, reminding that “they are human beings entitled to human rights and full protection of their human dignity”.
No one should have to surrender their human right to migrate in order to find a living wage, the UN human rights office, OHCHR said in a new report published on 16 December 2022, highlighting the importance of temporary migratory labour programmes.
The report, We wanted workers, but human beings came, published just two days ahead of the International Migrants Day, zeroes-in on schemes in operation across the Asia-Pacific region – the largest single migrant-producing region in the world.
The report points to just some of the abuse, discrimination, and inhuman treatment of migrants: as part of some seasonal schemes, migrants are expected to work on Saturdays and Sundays, leaving them no time to attend religious services.
Migrant domestic workers in other States have reported being told they would be fired, if they prayed or fasted while at work.
Some migrant construction workers report receiving sub-standard medical care in clinics provided by their employers.
Migrants are particularly at risk during what are often arduous journeys just trying to reach their destination, warn UN-appointed independent human rights experts.
The experts stressed that States must coordinate in “preventing the yearly disappearances of thousands of migrants in route.”
Citing International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates, they said that over 35,000 migrants have died or disappeared since 2014.
“However, there are no exact figures on the proportion of enforced disappearances in cases involving State agents or people acting with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of countries.”
But information indicates that most disappearances occur “during detention or deportation proceedings or because of migrant smuggling or trafficking,” said the UN-appointed human rights experts.
Blanket refusals, detention, expulsions
They blamed States’ rigid border management and migration policies for many disappearances, citing policies that include “blanket refusals of entry; criminalization of migration; and mandatory, automatic, or extensive use of immigration detention; and arbitrary expulsions.”
“These factors encourage migrants to take more dangerous routes, to put their lives in the hands of smugglers and to expose themselves to a higher risk of human rights violations and enforced disappearance”, the experts spelt out.
Every year, millions leave their countries under temporary labour migration programmes that promise economic benefits for destination countries and development dividends to countries of origin.
The report details how in many cases temporary work schemes impose a range of “unacceptable human rights restrictions.”
It highlights how migrant workers are “often forced to live in overcrowded and unsanitary housing, unable to afford nutritious food, denied adequate healthcare, and face prolonged and sometimes mandatory separation from their families.”
Moreover, policies that exclude them from government support in some countries put migrants at a disproportionate risk of COVID-19 infection, the report says.
“They should not be expected to give up their rights in return for being able to migrate for work, however crucial it is for them and their families, and for the economies of their countries of origin and destination”, Türk underscored.
Are all the “other migrants” illegal?
One day a year –18 December–, the world is expected to observe the International Migrants Day.
On it, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated that today, over 80% of the world’s migrants cross borders in a safe and orderly fashion.
On this International Migrants Day, “we reflect on the lives of the over 280 million people who left their country in the universal pursuit of opportunity, dignity, freedom, and a better life,” he said.
“Today, over 80 per cent of the world’s migrants cross borders in a safe and orderly fashion.” This migration is a powerful driver of economic growth, dynamism, and understanding.
Over the past eight years, at least 51,000 migrants have died – and thousands more have disappeared. Behind each number is a human being – a sister, brother, daughter, son, mother, or father.
“Migrant rights are human rights” the United Nations chief reminded. “They must be respected without discrimination – and irrespective of whether their movement is forced, voluntary, or formally authorised.”
Is there a ‘migration crisis’?
Guterres also highlighted the urgent need to expand and diversify rights-based pathways for migration – to advance the Sustainable Development Goals and address labour market shortages.
“There is no migration crisis; there is a crisis of solidarity.” Today and every day, let us safeguard our common humanity and secure the rights and dignity of all.”
How many migrants?
In recent years, conflict, insecurity, and the effects of climate change, war and conflict have heavily contributed to the forced movement whether within countries or across borders.
In 2020 over 281 million people were international migrants while over 59 million people were internally displaced by the end of 2021.
The UN underlines that regardless of the reasons that compel people to move, migrants and displaced people represent some of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society…,
… and they are often exposed to abuse and exploitation, have limited access to essential services including healthcare, and are faced with xenophobic attacks and stigma fueled by misinformation.
On the other hand, many migrant workers are often in temporary, informal, or unprotected jobs, which exposes them to a greater risk of insecurity, layoffs, and poor working conditions.
“Due to persistent lack of safe and regular migration pathways, millions continue to take perilous journeys each year. Since 2014 more than 50,000 migrants have lost their lives on migratory routes across the world.”
Despite all the above, and of all World and International conventions, declarations, and commitments which have been adopted by all States, reality shows that some migrants are more equal –and human– than others.
Read more on our partner website:
Cover image:Barbara Zandoval