Today, more people than ever live in a country other than the one where they were born. While many individuals migrate out of choice, many others leave home out of necessity.
Approximately 281 million people were international migrants in 2020, representing 3.6 per cent of the global population.
In his message, António Guterres said those on the move “continue to face widespread stigmatization, inequalities, xenophobia, and racism.”
“Migrant women and girls face heightened risk of gender-based violence and have fewer options to seek support”, he added.
With borders closed because of the pandemic, Mr. Guterres remembered that many migrants are stranded without income or shelter, unable to return home, separated from their families, and facing an uncertain future.
“Yet throughout the pandemic, migrants have enriched societies everywhere and are often on the frontlines of the pandemic response, as scientists, healthcare professionals and essential workers”, he said.
2021’s theme for the International Day, is Harnessing the potential of human mobility.
For the UN chief, the world needs more effective international cooperation and a more compassionate approach to accomplish that goal.
“This means managing borders humanely, fully respecting the human rights and humanitarian needs of everyone and ensuring that migrants are included in national COVID-19 vaccination plans”, he explained.
It also means recognizing pathways for regular entry and addressing the drivers of migration, such as deep inequalities and human trafficking.
Next year, the International Migration Review Forum will take stock of progress in implementing the milestone Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
For the UN chief, this “is an opportunity to advance efforts to ensure the full inclusion of migrants as we seek to build more resilient, just and sustainable societies.”
Mr. Guterres also welcomed the pledging campaign launched by the United Nations Migration Network to strengthen the Global Compact and encourage Member States and others to get involved.
This year, International Migrants Day falls almost exactly 70 years since the historic Brussels conference that led to the establishment of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
In his message, IOM Director General, António Vitorino, recalled the stark images of closed borders and separated families, amidst COVID-driven economic disarray, that have become more common in recent years.
According to him, the global pandemic has also spawned a new wave of anti-migrant sentiment and the increasing instrumentalization of migrants as political pawns.
“Both are unacceptable”, Mr. Vitorino said.
For him, the response to the pandemic has also underlined the importance of migrant workers in keeping everyone safe.
“The positive social and economic impact in the countries where they reside, and the $540 billion remitted last year to communities in lower and middle-income countries, are measures of the industry, entrepreneurship and community from which we all benefit”, he explained.
The IOM chief argued that, in order to realize the full potential of human mobility, two things must happen.
First, governments must move from words to action and include migrants regardless of their legal status, in their social and economic recovery plans.
Second, they must reinforce legal channels for migration that respect national sovereignty and the human rights of people on the move.
“A comprehensive approach requires that we leave aside the defensive posturing that too often victimizes people along their migratory journeys”, Mr. Vitorino said.
Racism and education
For Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, the need to stop the circulation of the virus should not jeopardize access to a better life.
She remembered that the factors leading to forced migration are becoming more pronounced, with increased conflict, growing food insecurity and the climate emergency.
Ms. Azoulay pointed to a report published in November by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) showing that the number of forced displacements had doubled in ten years. For her, this shows “how urgent it is to take action to protect these vulnerable populations.”
Stressing that these people are “often” victims of discrimination and racism, she said UNESCO was developing a new approach, following the Global Call against Racism launched by Member States last year.
Ms. Azoulay also highlighted the findings of a UNESCO report, Migration, Displacement and Education: Building Bridges, Not Walls, saying that education is “often the first step towards other, more stable horizons.”
End detention of migrants
All over the world, millions of migrants, including women and children, continue to be detained because of their status.
In a statement released on Friday, independent human rights experts urged Member States to ultimately end this practice, and to immediately stop detaining migrant children.
“People should not be treated as criminals merely for irregular crossing a State border or lacking proper documentation. Mass detention of these people cannot be considered as just a casual measure of immigration control”, they said.
According to the experts, there has been a significant increase in the use of immigration detention since the 1990s, although it is forbidden by international law.
Detention has a significant impact on the health and personal integrity of migrants, including on their mental health, including anxiety, depression, exclusion and post-traumatic stress disorder, and even risk of suicide.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.