For information only - not an official document.
18 December 2000

First International Migrants' Day – 18 December – to Be Observed Worldwide
Aim Is to Focus on Their Protection, Contribution to Host Countries

Human Rights Officials, Labour Experts to Speak at UN Event, Noting Global Effort
Against Exploitation, Abuse of Millions in Lands Not Their Own

NEW YORK, 15 December (UN Headquarters) -- Calling attention to the need to protect the rights and dignity of people who migrate from their native lands, the United Nations will mark the first International Migrants' Day on Monday next, 18 December. It is hoped that the day, which will be observed worldwide, will help to ensure that the presence and contributions of migrants in the advancement of their host countries is recognized. It is estimated that between 120 and 130 million people live outside their countries of origin.

The Day will be launched at United Nations Headquarters in New York with a special event sponsored by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Non-governmental Organization (NGO) Committee on Human Rights. The programme will take place on Monday from 1:15 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in Conference Room 6. Listed to speak are: Gustavo Albin, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations; Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Gareth Howell, Officer-in-Charge of the New York Office of the ILO; and Professor Herbert Engman of Cornell University.

Migration is hardly a recent or localised phenomenon. Millions of men, women and even children have left their homelands in search of a better job or a better life in a different place. People have also left their own countries because of civil conflicts and insecurity or persecution. However, globalization has spurred a sharp increase in labour mobility. Almost every country has now become a country of origin, transit or destination of migrants.

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are between 70 and 80 million migrant workers, and the High Commissioner of Refugees reports that there are 21.5 million refugees and probably some 30 million displaced persons. In 1997, the ILO estimated that there were 20 million migrant workers in Africa; 17 million in North America; 12 million in Central and South America; 7 million in Asia; 9 million in the Middle East (Arab countries), and 30 million in Europe.

Along with this rise in migration, there has been an alarming upsurge in intolerance, discrimination, racism and xenophobia, that has been expressed in the form of outright violence against migrants in practically every region of the world in the last decade. Gareth Howell of the ILO points out that "increasing restrictions on immigration leads to increased trafficking of migrants, often with tragic personal consequences". Racism, discrimination and xenophobia may be aggravated by inequitable distribution of wealth, marginalization and social exclusion.

Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently expressed concern at the harsh treatment of children and families of migrants, and the incidence of fear and dislike of foreigners reflected in both the private and public sectors. She added, "Such practices are of grave concern when they become institutionalized and reflect through the actions of the law enforcement officials or the judiciary."

Women and children currently account for more than half of the refugees and internally displaced persons, and their proportion is rising among the ranks of other migrants as well. The ILO estimates that 96 per cent of children who work and sleep in the streets are migrants, most of them girls aged eight to fourteen. According to United Nations statistics on women, between 300,000 and 600,000 women are smuggled each year into the European and certain Central European countries. The problem is also widespread in Africa and Latin America.

Migrant women, who dominate the informal sector as domestic, industrial or agricultural labour or the service sector, undergo double discrimination, thus easily finding themselves in situations in which they are vulnerable to violence and abuse, both at home and at work. For example, migrant women are often forced to provide sexual favours for permission to transit, a common practice on some borders.

There is a growing number of children of mixed parentage and of children of migrants born in the destination/host country or to migrant women who have been raped. They are subjected to racial discrimination and are often stigmatized not only in host countries, but also in their home communities and countries.

There have been efforts by the international community to protect migrants. The ILO has put the protection of migrants workers' rights at the centre of its mandate and actions since its creation. The 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families has been ratified by 15 countries, but 10 years after its adoption, it still needs a handful of signatures to enter into force. The Human Rights High Commissioner, Ms. Robinson, issued a strong appeal to governments "to ratify the Convention as soon as possible, so that its protective regime can be brought to bear upon the millions of migrant workers in different parts of the world". Last year, the Commission on Human Rights, recognizing the increasing need for protection of the migrants, appointed a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants.

More recently, in Palermo, Italy, the plight of migrants again attracted the attention of the international community, when more than a hundred countries signed the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and its accompanying protocols, to establish an international system to crack down on trafficking of women and children and the smuggling of migrants.

Racial discrimination against migrants is also at the centre of worldwide discussions leading to the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which will take place in Durban, South Africa from 31 August to 7 September next year. In a seminar to prepare for the World Conference, one expert observed that "the elimination of prejudice towards the outsider in the society is going to be a much more difficult and long-term problem to resolve than legal and institutional forms of discrimination". A call for educational programmes on immigration, which would result in the appreciation of diversity and the development of tolerance, was also made.

For further information, please contact Myriam Dessables, Development and Human Rights Section, Department of Public Information (212) 963-2932; fax: (212) 963-1186 or e-mail:

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