Although xenophobic discourse had elevated the anti-immigration agenda in countries around the world, migration remained a common human endeavour and migrants’ rights were human rights, a top United Nations expert on those rights told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.

“Migration is how we cope with environmental threats, with political oppression, but also with our desire to create a meaningful future for ourselves and our children,” the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, François Crépeau, said, as the Committee wrapped up its first week devoted to the promotion and protection of human rights and also heard presentations from experts on the rights to adequate housing, freedom of expression, and the independence of judges.

Emphasizing that migration was in humankind’s DNA,Mr. Crépeau said the principles that “we are all migrants” and “that migration concerns all States” would guide his mandate, which he assumed on 1 August 2011. While highlighting increasing international cooperation on migration issues, he argued that applying common international legal standards helped create a level playing field for migrants, employers and States.

Nevertheless, extremist parties in numerous countries were setting the tone and vocabulary of the political debate on migration issues, he said. States were increasingly using the language of crime when they spoke of irregular migration, with some resorting to its criminalization. But, even as some States criminalized irregular migration, they had indicated no intent to provide those migrants all the guarantees traditionally embedded in criminal law.

“Administrative decisions relating to migrants may result today in long detention periods, in the absence of a clear legal status, or in a return to death or torture,” he said. “In sum, we often apply to foreigners legal standards that we would abhor if they were applied to our sons and daughters in any circumstances.”

In that vein, he suggested that expulsion must conform to the human rights framework, while detention should only be used as a last resort and applied for the same reasons citizens were preventatively detained – such as when they were considered a flight risk and posed dangers to themselves or others. He urged the exploration of alternatives to detention.
Abdelhamid El Jamri, Chair of the monitoring Committee of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, echoedconcerns about a hardening of migration policy in some countries and an erosion of migrant rights exhibited by the greater numbers of detentions.

Recalling the number of migrants fleeing the events in North Africa this year, he said they had faced a range of violations, from mass evictions to dangerous interceptions at sea and trafficking in persons. He noted that the Committee had adopted, during the April session, a declaration calling on the authorities in Libya to comply with their obligations to migrant workers and their family members. He stressed that the Committee continued to closely follow the situation there.

In the afternoon, the Committee heard an address from General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al‑Nasser ( Qatar), who said the issues before the Committee this session were particularly pertinent, given the current remarkable moment in history. “We are witnessing emerging democracies calling for liberty, dignity and social justice,” he said, stressing that its topics ranging from social development to women’s advancement and the promotion and protection of children’s rights “are fundamental starting points for realizing the potential of democratic nations”.

Also today, the Committee heard from Raquel Rolnik, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living; Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. Each held a question and answer session with delegates after delivering their statements.

During today’s meeting, the Committee also heard a comment from Sri Lanka’s representative in regard to references to the country yesterday by Liechtenstein and Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.

In other business, the Committee heard the introduction of four draft resolutions on women’s advancement and the promotion and protection of the rights of children.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 24 October, to continue its discussion on human rights with presentations by the Special Rapporteurs on trafficking in persons, on the situation of human rights defenders and on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

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