No Surrender of Human Rights For a Living; UN

No Surrender of Human Rights For a Living; UN

No one should have to surrender their human right to migrate in order to find a living wage, the UN human rights office, OHCHR said in a new report, highlighting the importance of temporary migratory labour programmes.

The report, We wanted workers, but human beings came, published just ahead of International Migrants Day, points out that Temporary Labour Migration Programmes (TLMPs) are a dominant feature of the migration landscape in and from the Asia-Pacific region, where millions of migrant workers move along these corridors usually to take up fixed-term, low-wage work in sectors such as agriculture, construction, care work or the service industry.

The study focuses on migrants’ experiences beyond the workplace, understanding migrants not just as workers but as human beings and rights-holders fully entitled to all human rights. It also explores the parameters of these programmes through a human rights lens.

Stating that “Migrant workers are often dehumanized” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights  Volker Türk said “they are human beings entitled to human rights and full protection of their human dignity”.


In the report, the OHCHR said that millions leave their countries every year under temporary labour migration programmes that promise economic benefits for destination countries and development dividends to countries of origin. However, temporary work schemes impose a range of unacceptable human rights restrictions. Moreover, migrant workers are often forced to live in overcrowded and unsanitary housing, unable to afford nutritious food, denied adequate healthcare, and face prolonged and sometimes mandatory separation from their families, the report noted.  

Moreover, policies that exclude them from government support in some countries put migrants at a disproportionate risk of COVID-19 infection, the report says. 

“They should not be expected to give up their rights in return for being able to migrate for work, however crucial it is for them and their families, and for the economies of their countries of origin and destination”, Türk underscored.


Migrants are particularly at risk during what are often arduous journeys just trying to reach their destination. 

Prior to Sunday’s International Migrants Day, nearly a dozen UN-appointed independent human rights experts called on States to urgently accelerate efforts to tackle the enforced disappearance of migrants. 

“Effective and systematic coordination among countries along the route is therefore urgently needed”, they said in a statement


As part of some seasonal schemes, migrants are expected to work on Saturdays and Sundays, leaving them no time to attend religious services.  

Migrant domestic workers in other States have reported being told they would be fired, if they prayed or fasted while at work. Some migrant construction workers report receiving substandard medical care in clinics provided by their employers, the report said.

“Measures that curtail human rights cannot be justified by arguing that migrants’ immigration status is temporary, nor can States delegate to employers and other private actors their obligation as duty-bearers to ensure the human rights of all migrant workers and members of their families”, stressed Mr. Türk.  

“States need to put in place comprehensive, human rights-based labour migration policies along migration corridors in and from Asia and the Pacific as an alternative to restrictive, and in some cases exploitative, temporary programmes”. 


The UN rights experts stressed that States must coordinate to prevent the yearly disappearances of thousands of migrants en route.

Citing International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates, they said that over 35,000 migrants have died or disappeared since 2014. They noted that most disappearances occur during detention or deportation proceedings or because of migrant smuggling or trafficking.

“Mutual assistance and cooperation are key to finding disappeared migrants, investigating their disappearances, accompanying their families and relatives during these processes, as well as protecting and preventing this heinous crime,” the experts said, flagging the need for “interconnected data collection and information systems”.  


The experts blamed States’ rigid border management and migration policies for many disappearances, citing policies that include blanket refusals of entry; criminalization of migration; and mandatory, automatic, or extensive use of immigration detention; and arbitrary expulsions.  

“These factors encourage migrants to take more dangerous routes, to put their lives in the hands of smugglers and to expose themselves to a higher risk of human rights violations and enforced disappearance”, the experts noted.  


 • Guarantee comprehensive, human rights-based labour migration policies along corridors in and

from Asia and the Pacific as an alternative to TLMPs, ensuring that such pathways are available to

all migrant workers from all nationalities and that ensure their rights outside of as well as within the workplace.

 • All labour migration governance policies and agreements should be gender-responsive and not treat migrants as a homogeneous group, addressing the gendered specificities and consequences on migrant workers and their families.

• Commit to using rights-based, humane and constructive terminology to describe all migrants including those who are involved in temporary labour migration, consistent with international human rights law and standards including principles of equality and non-discrimination, towards ending intolerance, xenophobia, racism and other forms of discrimination against migrants and enabling them to live full and dignified lives.

• Improve cooperation within countries and between countries of origin and destination in order to

enhance protection of the human rights of migrant workers including through the provision of legal

 and other assistance. Ensure the inclusion of ministries such as social welfare, child protection,

women’s rights and other human rights relevant ministries in the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of labour migration agreements.

• In line with a whole-of-society approach guarantee that human rights actors such as National Human Rights Institutions, civil society and migrants’ organisations can be meaningfully involved in the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of all labour migration agreements. All bilateral and regional agreements should be transparent and publicly accessible and stored in an online repository that can be easily accessed.

 • Ensure in law and practice that all migrant workers on TLMPs enjoy equal protection of their human rights without discrimination, irrespective of their gender, migration status, contractual status or the temporality of their contracts, including low-wage workers, domestic and agricultural workers or workers in other specific sectors, and with no distinction between nationality groups of migrant workers. All agreements governing TLMPs should specify human rights protections, set out the responsibilities of all parties involved and create legally binding rights and obligations, in line with international law.


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