Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

International Day of Non-violence — How Can We Protect Migrants from Xenophobia?

The ‘Non-Violence’ (or ‘Knotted Gun’) sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd on display at the UN Visitors’ Plaza. Credit: UN Photo

Oct 3 2018 (IOM) - Mobs chasing migrants through towns; migrant street vendors getting shot at by people passing by on scooters; and migrant-owned shops being attacked on a regular basis. These are just a few samples of the incidents against migrant communities reported around the world.

Yesterday (2 October) we celebrated the International Day of Non-violence; today we would like draw attention to the issue of xenophobic violence.

An increase in violent attacks and hate crimes against migrants has been reported in several countries the last few years.[1] Coupled with a political atmosphere that has become more influenced by anti-migrant rhetoric, it is important to highlight the obligations surrounding the protection of migrants from this sort of violence in international law.

International human rights law prohibit any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence[2].

Xenophobia against migrants has been recognized as one of the main sources of contemporary racism and human rights violations.[3] In order to respect migrants’ right to security, States are obliged to protect them against all forms violence and bodily harm — whether the perpetrators are officials or private individuals, groups or institutions.[4]

States must adopt and implement legislation prohibiting xenophobic acts. Then, the acts need to be duly investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted and punished with sufficiently severe penalties reflecting the gravity of the act.[5] No one, including public officials, should enjoy impunity for targeting migrants, therefore States should also monitor the conduct of State agents such as border and coast guards, etc.

To effectively fight all manifestations of racism, xenophobia or related intolerance against migrants in society (such as hate crimes, incitement to hatred and hate speech) States should take positive measures with respect to both politicians and the media to raise awareness about the criminal nature of xenophobic acts as well as the rights of migrants.[6]

Another issue to consider is that by taking repressive measures and criminalizing migrants in irregular situations, States risk fuelling negative attitudes towards migrants which often leads to xenophobia and violence.

Moreover, this can create major obstacles for irregular migrants’ access to justice as they will be reluctant to report acts of violence or abuse to the authorities for fear of detention and/or deportation. Violence against irregular migrants therefore often goes under-reported and the perpetrators go unpunished.

Violence and attacks against migrants, simply because they are not nationals of a given country, need to be labelled as per the correct terminology — xenophobic and racist.

In a harsher and more anti-migrant political climate, the international community needs to continue to advocate for a clear stance against these phenomena. Instead of focusing on controlling and criminalizing migrants, it is time to foster inclusiveness and protect their rights, while ensuring effective access to justice for the benefit of migrants and communities.

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[1] See for example, The Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (2018) A/HRC/38/52 (2018); EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) (2018) Periodic data collection on the migration situation in the EU; FRA (2016) Current migration situation in the EU: hate crime.

[2] Art. 20 (2) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966).

[3] The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), General Recommendation no. 30 on discrimination against non-citizens (2005), p. 1; See also Durban Declaration and Plan of Action, Adopted at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Violence, 8 September 2001,

[4] Art. 16 (2) International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; art. 5 (b) International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

[5] The Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), General Recommendation, no. 2 on the rights of migrant workers in an irregular situation and members of their families (2013), para. 22; CERD, General Recommendation no. 30, supra. para. 11; CERD, General Recommendation no. 35 on combatting racist hate speech (2013), para. 13 ©, 17.

[6] CMW, General Recommendation no. 2, supra. para. 22.

 
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