International debate on migration: Concrete action is needed in this critical situation

High-level plenary meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants. United Nations General Assembly.

Today the top authorities of UN member countries met to discuss challenges related to migration, but their assessments and approaches are far from what is needed to guarantee the human rights of migrant persons. A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the Mediterranean Sea, where 3,200 people have died already so far this year, and in other places such as the Central America–Mexico–United States migration corridor. However, states have postponed any plan for immediate action until 2018.

In the declaration adopted today, countries committed to reviewing the negative consequences of their migration policies. This commitment is a step forward, but it does not recognize the central role that restrictive migratory policies play in this crisis.

When international borders are militarized to control migration and “protect national security,” the human rights of migrant persons are violated. Mass detention and expulsion do not respect the rules of due process or of case-by-base analysis, and no policies are in place to ensure mechanisms for access to justice when violations are committed by state officials or third parties. The declaration of countries does not explore these problems in depth and instead promotes greater international cooperation for border “control,” from a security perspective. It also permits the detention of migrants, including children.

The paradigm of migration regulation must be transformed: instead of impeding, limiting, persecuting and criminalizing, it must guarantee decent and safe conditions for people’s movements and stays. Along with other organizations, we sustain that migratory regularization is a key solution to today’s crisis. When migrant persons obtain their documentation, they are able to fully exercise their rights and achieve better living conditions. Regularization should be set forth as an obligation of States and a right of migrants at an international level. Countries will discuss policies for regularization while negotiating the Global Compact of 2018, but no concrete progress is foreseen before then.

In terms of regularization policies, the region and Argentina in particular have positive experiences to share. Argentina’s migrations law raised international standards by putting the human rights of migrant persons at the center. As a result, nearly one million people obtained their documentation between 2004 and 2014. The current government has the opportunity to consolidate this cornerstone policy, but the announcement that it planned to open a detention center for migrants coupled with other recent changes in the law’s application have sounded alarm bells.

CELS and the Argentine Commission for Refugees and Migrants (CAREF) sent contributions to the declaration that countries adopted today at UN headquarters. Along with other organizations and institutions from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, and an international network, we also contributed to the report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented last Friday.