Refugees are human beings, entitled to the same protection, services and rights as anyone else

Published: 20 June 2015 8:42 CET

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of people forced to leave everything behind and undertake a perilous journey to escape conflict, persecution, poverty or violence. They travel in the hope of securing a better future. Last year, this number exceeded 50 million according to the UNHCR, a number unprecedented since the Second World War.

Today, on World Refugee Day, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) calls on individuals, communities, institutions and authorities to remember that migrants are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes, and they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care.

Behind every statistic, there is a story – of a mother seeking safety and security for her children, a boy forced to be a man and seek work to support his ailing parents, a girl running from rape and abuse by armed combatants, a father seeking a safe and dignified life for his family, a child who wants to be able to play and go to school. Basic needs that are often taken for granted. The dangerous journey they undertake to a better life, costs more than anyone of us can afford. 

People on the move are entitled to the same human rights and protection as anyone else. The migration issue is rooted in conflict, poverty and persecution, yet people on the move are victims of smugglers, traffickers and governments who fail to prioritize their basic need. They are often treated like criminals.

The IFRC and its member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world are focused on meeting the humanitarian needs of migrants, protecting people on the move, preventing loss of life and treating people with dignity. We are deeply concerned about the wellbeing of migrants who may lack access to basic services or to health, social and legal systems. We urge for a humanitarian approach to tackling the vulnerabilities of migrants, rather than focusing on their legal status. 

Measures to prevent irregular migration endanger the safety and security and the lives of vulnerable migrants. The very limited options to enter into a country safely and in a regular way forces migrants to take huge risks on their journeys, to use the services of smugglers and expose themselves to dangerous, expensive and time consuming ways of travelling. It makes migrants easy targets for all kinds of exploitation, even slavery, depriving them of their dignity and turning them into criminals in the eyes of the public and authorities.

Illegality, or criminalization of irregular migration, effectively prevents would-be asylum seekers from exercising their right to ask for international protection. It forces migrants to risk their health and often even their lives to reach a place of safety. It prevents them from accessing government support and services and forces them to live their lives in constant fear of being discovered, arrested, punished and deported. 

People arrive at national borders for multiple reasons and with different vulnerabilities.They should always be treated with humanity, regardless of their legal status. 

Migrants should receive humane and fair treatment. Their dignity, human rights, safety and wellbeing must be protected, regardless of where they’re coming from, or where they’re going.