The global migration labyrinth: a journey of hope and risks

International Migrants Day - 18 December, 2013

As long as people migrate, whether forced to flee danger to improve their lives or for other reasons, they will be subject to dangers and suffering along the way. Climbing over razor wire fences, taking to the sea in leaking boats or stowing away in airless containers, migrants around the world are risking their lives every day in desperate attempts to find protection, safety or a better life.

The dangers and vulnerabilities will always be greatest when people are compelled to move outside of legal channels and legal systems. Creating more opportunities for legal migration and establishing humanitarian procedures for seeking international protection in safety and dignity along all migration corridors is a matter of urgency.

There are many measures that can be taken by governments to reduce the numbers of migrants who suffer or lose their lives on land and at sea, whether it is in the Mediterranean, on the Red Sea, in the Indian and Pacific Oceans or along the various global migration land corridors.

Implementing measures to reduce such suffering and deaths was the call made by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and States parties to the Geneva Conventions during the 31 International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2011.

The Conference called upon all States to ensure that their national procedures at international borders, especially those that might result in denial of access to international protection, deportation or interdiction of persons; include adequate safeguards to protect the dignity; and ensure the safety of all migrants. States were also called upon – in line with such relevant international law and national legislation – to grant to migrants appropriate international protection and to ensure their access to relevant services, such as Restoring Family Links.

More needs to be done globally to ensure that after rescue operations, migrants are not pushed back to a country where they are at risk of ill-treatment, human rights violations or of being sent back to their country of origin without due consideration for the principle of Non-refoulement. Specifically the right to seek international protection enshrined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On the occasion of the International Migrants Day, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) strongly reaffirms that human rights norms are applicable to all migrants, regardless of their legal status, and that ensuring respect for their human rights must always take clear and unconditional precedence over the enforcement of border protection and visa regulations.

Asking for international protection and receiving a fair asylum procedure is a human right and States need to do much more to ensure safe and effective legal avenues for potential asylum seekers which enable them to access their right to ask for international protection in safety and dignity.

Where particular regimes of protection apply, such as to refugees, asylum seekers, trafficked persons, stateless persons and migrant workers, these should be applied without discrimination. Care should be taken to avoid creating hierarchies between different groups of migrants, while recognizing that protection needs might, in given situations, be different.

Migrants do not want charity, just the fair chance to exercise their rights and to live and work, free of the very discrimination and abuse that often prompted their movement in the first place. The advocacy agenda in this case would be to argue for more responsive and more transparent legal channels of entry, equal access for all migrants irrespective of legal status, to recognize labour market realities, and to end the hypocritical situation where States condemn the movement of undocumented migrants while their economies and societies benefit from the labour of these same individuals.

The global migration labyrinth is a journey of hope, but also one of many risks and great suffering. Behind the dramatic headlines and the striking images of people on the move, there are personal stories of courage, tragedy and compassion. We continue to see some of the more extreme consequences of those risks, but many remain unseen.

The IFRC calls on all governments to do much more to actively and effectively address the urgent protection needs of migrants irrespective of their legal status.

Sue Le Mesurier is the head of the Migration Unit at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 191 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright