Human Rights advocacy
UNHCR chief unveils action plan to protect rights in migratory movements
U.N. refugee agency chief António Guterres urged European and African nations grappling with the difficult challenges of migration and development to work together to uphold the rights of refugees and others in so-called mixed migratory movements. Unveiling a 10-point action plan at the Euro-African Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, Guterres called for "special attention" on the phenomenon of mixed movements in which migrants and refugees move alongside each other, often in an irregular manner, using similar routes and modes of transport.
Such movements are termed "irregular" because they often take place without the requisite documentation and frequently involve human smugglers. The people who move in this manner often place their lives at risk, are obliged to travel in inhumane conditions and may be exposed to exploitation and abuse. States regard such movements as a threat to their sovereignty and security.
"While recognizing the difficulties that such movements can pose for states in terms of national and local security, we must ensure that the measures taken to curb irregular migration do not prevent refugees from gaining the international protection which they need and to which they are entitled," Guterres said. The High Commissioner noted that the irregular nature of the current movement of people from Africa towards Europe presented a number of challenges to European and African states. He said the Rabat meeting, which brings together some 60 European and African countries, provided a timely forum to explore two important and related issues migration and development. Quoting a UN Declaration, he noted that the right to development is "an inalienable right, by virtue of which ... all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized."
"It is precisely because they are unable to exercise their right to development that so many people including migrants who are looking for a better standard of living, and refugees who are looking for safety and security feel obliged to leave their own country and move elsewhere," Guterres said. "While we must maintain this fundamental distinction between refugees and migrants, we must also recognize that both forms of mobility are often rooted in the broader problem of under-development. I hope that this conference will enable the states of Africa and Europe to formulate cooperative approaches to the challenge of development approaches which can help us to create the conditions that enable people to migrate out of choice, rather than necessity."
Guterres stressed that UNHCR is not and does not intend to become a migration agency. "But if my office is to exercise its mandate for the protection of refugees, then it must also become involved in the broader issue of international migration," he said. The 10-point plan put forward by Guterres sets out key areas in which comprehensive action is required to address the issues of mixed and irregular migratory movements in a coherent and practical way in countries of origin, transit and destination. While recognising that border controls are essential for combating international crime, including smuggling and trafficking, and to avert security threats, the plan stresses the need for practical protection safeguards to ensure that such measures are not applied in an indiscriminate or disproportionate manner and do not lead to refugees being returned to countries where their life or liberty would be at risk.
"Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants will continue to enter Europe," he said. "Indeed, the logic of globalisation and demographic change is such that their numbers seem certain to increase in the years to come. "I encourage our European partners to respond to this situation in a positive manner, by contributing to responsibility-sharing arrangements, by providing protection to those people who need it, and by ensuring that the public debate on asylum and migration issues is conducted in a calm and rational manner."
Guterres underlined the importance for countries to promote social inclusion and tolerance, noting that refugees and migrants are often confronted by xenophobia in many parts of the world.