UN High Commissioner for Refugees marks International Migrants Day

Wednesday 17 December 2008

GENEVA - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres issued the following statement on the occasion of International Migrants Day, which is commemorated on 18 December:

"International migration is a defining characteristic of the contemporary world. Throughout the globe, people are being pushed beyond the borders of their own country by armed conflict and natural disasters, and attracted to other states by the prospect of better security and opportunities than are available at home. At few times in human history have so many people been on the move from one country and continent to another.

"International migration makes an enormous contribution to our economic, social and cultural life. It helps to fill gaps in the labour market and provides billions of dollars to developing countries each year in the form of migrant remittances. It enables people to improve their education, to learn new skills and to make the best use of their talents. And it contributes enormously to the global exchange of ideas and information, enabling us all to experience a more varied and cosmopolitan lifestyle than was possible in the past.

"But migration also has a darker side, especially when people move because they are escaping intolerable conditions at home and when they do not have access to the passports and visas that would enable them to migrate in a safe and legal manner.

"Throughout the world, refugees, asylum seekers and irregular migrants are being held in detention and subjected to physical abuse. Many face harassment, discrimination and exploitation, not least by the human traffickers and smugglers who prey upon people who are desperate to move. Sensationalist media coverage and political populism have contributed to the growth of racism and xenophobia, which are often targeted at the most vulnerable and visible migrants. In contravention of international refugee law, people whose lives and liberty are at risk in their own country are turned away from the borders of states where they hope to find safety and security.

"On the occasion of International Migrants Day, let us remember that all migrants, irrespective of their motivation for moving and their legal status, enjoy the protection of the core international human rights treaties. Let us also recall that among those on the move today are people who are fleeing from persecution and armed conflict, and who deserve to be treated in accordance with the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which has now been signed by almost 150 states.

"When that Convention was established, the international community expressed its 'profound concern for refugees' and underlined the need to ensure that they could enjoy 'the widest possible exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms.' At a time when so many parts of the world are affected by violence, political turmoil and social disintegration, that must remain our objective."