International Migration Day: better protections needed for migrants as global recession begins to bite

Published: 18 December 2012 14:17 CET

18/12/2012 Geneva - The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is today marking International Migration Day and is renewing its appeal to governments to ensure that the current economic downturn does not result in heightened xenophobia and discrimination against migrants.

As highlighted in the IFRC's 2012 annual World Disasters Report (WDR), an estimated 70 million people – more than one in 100 of the world’s citizens – had been recorded as displaced by conflict, political upheaval, violence, disasters and other factors such as climate change by 2011. More than 20 million people are currently trapped in a state of “protracted displacement” – living in camps or in unplanned and informal parts of cities, typically unable to work or access even basic social services.

Tragically the number of people forcibly displaced continues to be dramatically and unacceptably high as the phenomena of migration becomes more complex,” said Matthias Schmale, IFRC Under Secretary-General for National Society and Knowledge Development. “We are now particularly concerned that the austerity measures and difficult economic conditions in many countries may put these already vulnerable people further at risk. On the occasion of International Migrants Day, the IFRC wishes to reiterate the many benefits of migration, and to acknowledge the contributions of migrants in countries of origin, transit and destination, but also to remind that there are many vulnerable migrants who must be protected.”

The economic recession and ensuing austerity measures have hit many countries hard, and the IFRC is particularly concerned that the financial crisis is seriously undermining the well-being and security of migrant populations. The Spanish Red Cross recently launched an emergency appeal and boosted its emergency food aid programmes to help those suffering the effects of the financial crisis; amongst them migrants working in the country's ailing construction industry.

Indeed, the outlook for Spain’s immigrants has deteriorated dramatically. A country in which unemployment has just gone over 5 million, and is heading towards 25 per cent, is a poor bet for forced migrants fleeing situations of violence and conflict. The Spanish Red Cross serves annually an average of 200,000 migrants in the country through its social programs across the country. The unemployment rate for immigrants in Spain is around 35 per cent.

“We are seeing that the economic crisis is heightening the vulnerability of migrants,” explained Schmale. “And, as we hear from our colleagues at the Spanish Red Cross, vulnerability does not start with the crisis, it just increases with it.”

The recession is hitting all of us to a certain degree, but we must remember that heightened vulnerability of those who are far from their homelands. It is critical that governments and communities pull together in times of crisis, and that tolerance, respect and human dignity remain in the face of the challenging circumstances," said Schmale.

In November 2011 at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, 164 governments agreed to the principle that migrants, irrespective of their legal status, should have access to the support that they need and that they are treated at all times with respect and dignity.  The migration resolution 3 Ensuring Access, Dignity, Respect for Diversity and Social Inclusion adopted during the Conference expressed concern ‘about the often alarming humanitarian situation of migrants in situations of vulnerability, at all stages of their journey and ongoing risks that migrants face in regards to their dignity, safety, access to international protection as well as access to health care, shelter, food, clothing and education.

The IFRC urges states and the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in conformity with the Fundamental Principles and Statutes of the Movement, to continue to collaborate and build partnerships which recognise the role of the Movement in working with migrants," said Schmale.

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