Migrants Deserve Their Rights, Too

  • Andrew Bruce | IOM Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific

This opinion piece appeared in the South China Morning Post to mark International Migrants’ Day.

Bangkok, Thailand - Today is International Migrants Day, the day in the year when the spotlight falls on a phenomenon that is as old as humanity. If migration could be mapped in real time, it would show the world's surface constantly in motion, like bees in a hive, as people move in response to natural disasters and climate change in search of work and better lives.

Much of this hubbub of movement is taking place in the Asia-Pacific region, where more than 30 million people migrate annually. Over 40 per cent of them move within the region.

Migration is part and parcel of who we are, how we adapt to change and how we survive. Migration is part of our lives – whether it is something obvious, such as receiving remittances from abroad, or less evident, such as using a mobile phone made by a migrant worker. Migration is a mega trend of the 21st century, and as our lives become more interdependent, so will our dependency on migration as a solution to economic and social problems.

Migration should be well managed. When it is, it is a positive force and aids development. But migration can also be massive, unexpected and threaten the very fabric of society, especially when it results from natural disaster, climate change, economic upheaval, nuclear disaster or conflict.

We saw shades of this in the evacuation of migrants from Libya to Bangladesh almost two years ago, and we saw it again this year when the Philippine government, with support from the International Organisation for Migration, helped get hundreds of terrified overseas workers safely back home from the conflict in Syria. We are seeing it now as the international community scrambles to get aid to Mindanao after Typhoon Bopha. Planning for large, rapid displacements becomes paramount.

At the same time, conflicts and man-made or natural disasters can affect already vulnerable migrants, resulting in a double whammy of humanitarian crises. The international community must recognise the implications of crises for migrants and their families left behind, and act.

Unexpected migrations bring with them a raft of challenges that the international community needs to address. They include the protection of vulnerable migrants from crisis-related violence and exploitation in their host country and in transit, and their safe and sustainable reintegration once they get home.

Finding humane and effective solutions to these challenges requires strong partnerships between governments and international organisations. We all share a responsibility to protect the human rights of all people on the move.

December 2012