Related topics

UN expert says repression endangers migrants

October 3, 2013

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The independent U.N. investigator on the human rights of migrants said Thursday that using only repressive measures against people seeking a better life in another country produced the tragic sinking of a migrant-laden boat near Sicily — and similar tragedies around the world.

Francois Crepeau, a Canadian law professor, said the increasing criminalization and repression of “irregular migration” only pushes migrants underground.

“Treating irregular migration only by repressive measures will produce this type of result we have last night” off Lampedusa, Crepeau said. “We have to find other ways. Repression may be part of the solution, but repressing irregular migration only does one thing — it entrenches and it empowers the migrant smugglers.”

He spoke at a news conference during the General Assembly’s two-day high-level meeting on International Migration and Development.

The session started hours after a packed fishing boat with migrants from Ghana, Somalia and Eritrea heading toward the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa caught fire and capsized, killing at least 114 people, with many others still missing. It was one of the deadliest accidents in the perilous crossing thousands make each year, seeking a new life in the prosperous European Union.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said more must be done to protect the human rights of all migrants and “to create more channels for safe and orderly migration, and to seek alternatives to the administrative detention of migrants.”

The U.N. chief said the face of migration is changing: Almost half of all migrants are women, one in 10 is under the age of 15, and four in 10 live in developing countries.

A declaration adopted by participants at the meeting stressed “the important contribution” of migrants to the development of their home countries and the countries they move to, and “the need to improve public perceptions of migrants and migration.” It demanded an end to discrimination against migrants vowed to continue combatting human trafficking.

Crepeau stressed that tragedies like the one off Lampedusa didn’t exist in the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s when migrants who couldn’t find work at home or lived in fear headed off to find jobs in Europe and elsewhere. They worked, “got regularized” and weren’t criminalized.

But a major issue today, Crepeau said, “is that for domestic political considerations, politicians have embarked very often, pushed by far right movements, into a discourse on the criminality of these irregular migrants.”

Crepeau stressed that “99.9 percent of irregular migrants pose no security risk.”

He said there is no discussion in the rich northern countries with booming economies of their unmet needs for low-skilled labor in agriculture, construction, hospitality and domestic work — partly because this would lead workers to ask for their rights, including a minimum salary, “and that will increase the costs to all these low margin of profit economic sectors.”

Update hourly