Human Rights should not be controversial but they are. For me they represent something profoundly important in the development of human consciousness. We are all uniquely endowed and gifted with common attributes, feelings, needs and therefore entitlements to the resources and treatment we need to live and flourish with dignity.
We are all human and therefore have rights and a duty not to trespass on the rights of others. It is the perfect antidote to racism. Human Rights are seen as a product of the enlightenment but actually racism is also its daughter. Racism stratifies humanity. Human Rights affirm our commonality. Racism reached its pinnacle in the twentieth century in segregation, apartheid, and gas chambers. Out of it the concept of Human Rights entered our psyche and national and international legislation. They give both dignity and redress for all who continue to be discriminated against and disadvantaged as a result of perpetuating prejudices.
For Praxis, human rights are fundamental. For us the UN Charter on Refugees, or the Human Rights Act are vital reference points. But we are still people in struggle against the life denying, and therefore rights-denying phenomena of war, racism, and all the discriminations which centre on ability, gender, caste and class. The weapon which is used against migrants is the weapon of the border. If you are deemed to be legitimately within, then you are a human with rights. If you seek entry or lack the correct stamp in your passport or indeed lack a passport at all, then you forfeit essential rights – to shelter, to livelihood, to health and to family and social life. Our task as an agency is to ensure that Human Rights are not conflated to Citizen’s Rights.
Far too few people know that: migrant children are still imprisoned; some migrants have no entitlement either to work or public funds; families are routinely separated by immigration controls; public servants in health and education are increasingly pressurised to act as border police; UKBA treatment of individuals can amount to psychological torture. This happens because there has been a consistent narrative produced by lobby groups such as Migration Watch but also more respected commentators and by the tabloid press. The narrative has dehumanised the migrant thereby creating the perception that as less than human they can or must be excluded from human rights.
In the current climate, migration is being debated within an economic framework. Unemployment is high and UK born citizens have a right to livelihood and an understandable concern that if work is to be rationed then the person already here should have the first opportunity. It would be wrong for those of us who believe in the fundamental rights of migrants not to hear that concern. It would be equally wrong to allow the focus to be so narrow that the migrant is defined merely as an economic unit or to allow ourselves to believe the deception that the economy can be fixed by increasing migration controls.
This Human Rights Day affords us an opportunity to defend the rights of migrants by asserting the need for the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families to be ratified by Western countries, which have benefited so much from migration. Alarm bells are ringing and we need to be extremely vigilant. We must affirm again our commitment to work for: each person threatened with deportation; each family separated by migrant controls; each person trafficked and exploited by criminals; each migrant worker denied a living wage and decent conditions and every person forced to move by the threat of violence and the realities of war.
Vaughan will be one of the speakers at the Human Rights in Migration event on the 8 December. Please secure a place by registering below.
Vaughan Jones is the founding Chief Executive of Praxis and has been associated with the organisation for 27 years. He has worked in the voluntary sector for 35 years in neighbourhood community work, specialist youth work with homeless young people and refugee and migrant communities. He has played a leading role in local strategic partnership forums in Tower Hamlets.